THE NATION that gave the world Bratwurst and hot dogs is cutting back on its favorite pork sausages and larding up plates with more veggie concoctions instead.
Germans last year consumed the smallest amount of pig meat since at least 2005, and the drop will continue in 2017, according to Agriculture Market Information Co. in Bonn. In Europe’s largest hog-producing and pork-eating nation, ham and sausage demand has dropped for at least three straight years.
Pork still accounts for more than half the meat eaten in the continent’s top economy, but it’s losing market share to poultry and beef and competing more with vegetarian options at shops and restaurants. The shift reflects changing German attitudes about healthier diets and climate-friendly, sustainable food production. There’s also been an influx of refugees who don’t eat pork.
“While there continues to be a lot of appetite for pork dishes, we adapt our menu,” said Christoph Wagemann, the head of procurement and controlling at the 167-year-old Zum Schluessel beer hall in Dusseldorf’s old town, which now serves a vegan “chili con soja” along with traditional meat sausages. “Bigger groups will always have vegetarians or vegans.”
Pork has a long history in Germany, which even boasts an entire museum dedicated to Currywurst — a cheap Cold War-era sausage that mixes meat with spiced ketchup. Domestic sausages come in more than 1,500 regional varieties, a vast majority of which are made with pork, according to the German Butchers’ Association.
Total pork consumption in Germany has plunged 10% since 2011, to about 2 million tons last year, according to data compiled by researcher Euromonitor International. Over the same period, demand has increased in neighboring Poland, France and Austria.
On average, Germans ate about 36.2 kilograms of pork each last year, down from 40.1 kilos in 2011 and the lowest since AMI began tracking the data. The decline was so steep that it exceeds the increases for poultry and beef, which means overall meat consumption in the country dropped to 60 kilos, the lowest since 2006.
With consumers less enamored with pork, even traditional sausage makers are offering veggie options. The 183-year-old Ruegenwalder Muehle Carl Mueller GmbH & Co. KG now produces veggie schnitzels, hams and sausages such as a pea-protein Leberwurst, which is normally made of pig liver.
The family-owned company in Bad Zwischenahn, Lower Saxony, the heart of the German pig industry, says its meat sales fell 5% last year. But vegetarian and vegan products jumped by a third, accounting for 26% of total revenue. By the end of the decade, non-meat offerings should reach 40%, a company spokeswoman said.
Food companies also are making more ready-to-cook meals such as curry that use more chicken or beef, which is crowding out pig meat, according to Justin Sherrard, animal-protein strategist at Rabobank in Utrecht.
These days, one in 10 Germans shuns meat, up from less than one in a 100 more than a decade ago, the German Vegetarian Union estimates. More than 200 vegan cookbooks were published in Germany last year, almost double a year earlier, the Berlin-based vegetarian association estimates. The domestic meat-substitute market has grown on average almost 25% in the past five years, according to Euromonitor.
The appeal of pork has been hurt by recent animal-welfare scandals and disclosures that farmers raise pigs in confined spaces of less than a square meter. Almost 60 million pigs are slaughtered annually in Germany, mainly in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, according to the government statistical office. There also are increased concerns about processed meat after the World Health Organization categorized ham, sausages and hot dogs as carcinogenic.
“Pork has a bad reputation in Germany,” Matthias Kohlmueller, a livestock-unit manager at AMI, said by phone from Berlin. “Consumption is not growing.”
Environmental issues also play a role. Livestock generates about 14% of human-made greenhouse-gas emissions, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization estimates. Germany’s Environment Ministry no longer serves meat and fish at its functions “to set a good example as vegetarian food is more climate-friendly,” said spokeswoman Nina Wettern.
Another big influence on demand is the change in German demographics and eating habits after the arrival of about 1 million refugees. Most of the people who sought asylum came from Muslim countries where they don’t eat pork for religious reasons, including Syria and Afghanistan. That boosted sales of lamb, mutton and goat to an eight-year high in 2016, according to Euromonitor. More public canteens and schools have also been removing pork from menus.
There are attempts to address public concerns. German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt is seeking to establish a state animal-welfare label, including a premium degree. He has called for reinstating pork on school menus and has commissioned experts to make general proposals for “balanced daycare and school food.”
Meanwhile, in Dusseldorf, Peter Zodrow runs a vegan eatery that has seen its business boom. When he opened a decade ago, Zodrow was serving 50 guests a day and could hardly break even serving vegetable stews and curries. Today, the 48-year-old animal-welfare activist serves 1,000 customers daily at four branches in North Rhine-Westphalia.
One customer, Daniel Klager, 32, said he eats at the restaurant for ecological and animal-husbandry reasons. “I want to ease the climate situation a bit by my consumer choices,” he said at Zodrow’s eatery, called Sattgruen, which means “saturated green” in German. — Bloomberg