When most people think of German cuisine, the phrase “plant-based” is probably the last pair of words that would come to mind. Known for meaty sausages like bratwurst and schnitzel (often enjoyed with beer come October), German food seems to be as far from vegan as you can get. However, a recent report released by global research agency Mintel reveals that in 2016, Germany was the leading market for new vegan food and drink products, accounting for 18 percent of all new products launched. This is a major growth, considering that in 2012, new vegan food and drink product launches in Germany accounted for only 1 percent of global food and drink introductions worldwide. The U.S. finished in second place at 17 percent — and trailing behind us at 11 percent was the UK.

While it may come as a surprise to some that Germany led the way in terms of new products with vegan claims last year, what’s not surprising is they are offering meat-free substitutes of classic German sausages like bratwurst and schnitzel. Nutritional epidemiologist Clarissa Lage Barbosa of the Robert Koch Institute, part of the Federal Ministry of Health, told CNN,  “Meat substitutes are what Germany is leading in, from a personal view. If someone is just starting, these kind of products can help them get into the diet.” Mintel’s research confirms that more Germans are leaning towards a meat-free diet, stating that as many as

Mintel’s research confirms that more Germans are leaning towards a meat-free diet, stating that as many as 7 percent of German adults claim to be vegetarian while 5 percent claim to be vegan. The numbers are even higher in the 16-24-year-old population, with 14 percent identifying as vegetarian and 10 percent being vegan. According to Katya Witham, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, “Veganism is now seen as a trendy lifestyle, and Germany is home to the most vegan product launch innovation. Today, vegan products attract attention from a much wider audience, namely health and ethically driven, flexi-vegan consumers.”

Just like the recent debacle in which the U.S. dairy industry claimed that labeling plant-based milk as “milk” is misleading and confusing to consumers, the surge of plant-based meat options in German grocery stores has come with some pushback. German agricultural minister Christian Schmidt went on record stating that the terms “vegetarian schnitzel,” “vegetarian sausage,” and “vegetarian meatballs” are “are completely misleading and unsettle consumers.” Additionally, he made clear that he favors them being banned, “in the interest of clear consumer labeling.” We’re not sure where the confusion lies. As with plant-based milk, meat-free substitutions typically come affixed with qualifiers that make it very clear to the consumer that the product they’re purchasing contains no animal ingredients.

Not only do Germans seem to be embracing plant-based foods, they’re also interested in quality. According to Wintham, “the trend towards naturalness plays a dominant role in the food choices of German consumers, who prioritize health benefits of unprocessed, natural and wholesome products. Germans are also very distrustful towards the content of the food and drink products they buy, opting for natural products with short ingredient lists.”

A product being vegan is no longer good enough — like Americans, Germans are embracing the plant-based future of food. Increasingly, these consumers are interested in products that are not only better for the environment, but also minimally processed and reflect their values.

Lead image source: kitty/Shutterstock