Wine pairings with meat-free food: what consumers want

Thoughtfully pairing wine with food can transform a meal. Although there are no rules set in stone, expert advice is available online to help consumers combine food and wine based on certain qualities, such as acidity, of both the food group and the wine. Currently many consumers are moving towards a more plant-based diet, looking to consume vegetable and non-meat meals rather than meat-based where possible, with wines to match. A survey from last year highlighted that 28% of British consumers identify as meat reducers.

For consumers who dine out frequently, restaurants have a big role in helping them reduce their meat consumption. Plant Based News has commented that they can do so by providing menus which enable diners to avoid meat “without having to make a statement of some kind.” Having a variety of attractive meat-free dishes in the menu is a straightforward way to attract this substantial consumer group but helping them navigate in the world of wine-food pairing could potentially elevate the experience even further.

Using three multi answer steers we asked our panel which wines they would combine with three types of vegan food: starchy meals (based on rice, potatoes or pasta), roasted vegetables, and raw vegetables. We used five wine varieties, which, according to experts, go well with meat-free food. The data obtained from the steers is split into two groups in order to establish differences between the preferences of meat and fish eaters versus people who avoid meat:

A significant difference between the two groups in all three steers is the smaller ratio of meat avoiders opting for “none”. It means that they are indeed 4 or 5 percentage points more likely to order some of the suggested combinations in a restaurant.

Another trend that jumps out when looking at both the starchy food and roasted vegetables combinations, is that meat avoiders have a clear preference to light red wine, as opposed to meat and fish eaters, who skewed towards medium red wine. This trend signals a move away from full, blockbuster-style reds in favour of wines that are more balanced and food-friendly towards a wider range of dishes, including vegetarian or vegan.

As for the raw vegetables, meat avoiders were more inclined than meat and fish eaters to combine them with red wines but less keen on sparkling and dry white wine, which are regarded as a mainstream accompaniment to celery, fresh greens and other raw vegetables. This shows we can expect slightly unusual preferences from this consumer group, due to an inclination to regard as a main meal what is perceived by the majority to be a side dish.

Beyond this, it seems worth including vegan wines as options for such pairings. Interest in vegan wines spreads outside the strictly vegan consumer group to include meat reducers and vegetarians, as proved by a steer, asking consumers whether they would buy vegan wine:

While the overall result in blue is positive, with almost 57% likely to buy vegan wine, the result for meat avoiders is even higher – above 70%. Looking at the responses from fish and meat eaters, it is obvious that they take less interest in the type of product:

Despite the lower propensity to buy vegan wine, for over half of these consumers the vegan positioning is not a deterrent. Instead of fining agents made from animal products vegan wine makes use of clay or charcoal-based alternatives. Fining agents, either vegan or not, are said not to impact wine flavour, therefore meat eaters familiar with winemaking may have a different view to those without such knowledge.

As a takeaway from these results, we think restaurants could base non-meat menu options on similar insights in order to make ordering food with wine easier and create a restaurant experience for meat reducers on par with everyone else’s. Supermarkets, on the other hand, could offer meal deals featuring non-meat food combined with wines that meat reducers find attractive.

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