Sales of meat-free, plant-based foods rising in UK
Data from Mintel Global has revealed that more Britons are consuming meat-free foods, including meat substitutes or dishes made with meat substitutes, including sausages, burgers, deli ingredients (eg, vegetarian mince), pastry products and snacks. The percentage of Britons who have consumed meat-free products has risen from 50% in 2017 to 65% in 2019. Sales of meat-free foods have also increased by 40%, from £582 million (AU$1.1 billion) in 2014 to £816 million (AU$1.54 billion) in 2019.
Mintel predicts that sales will exceed £1.1 billion (AU$2.07 billion) by 2024. The proportion of meat eaters who have reduced or limited the amount of meat they consume has increased from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019, with women more likely than men to limit the amount of meat in their diets (42% compared to 36%). While the meat-free market is thriving, 38% of non-users would prefer to substitute meat with ingredients such as cheese or pulses, rather than buy meat substitutes.
“TV documentaries, news coverage and celebrity influencers have all contributed to the growing concern about the impact of meat consumption on the environment. However, there is scope for meat-free brands to be more vocal about their environmental credentials. Creating a USP in holistic ‘green’ credentials, which must include environmentally friendly packaging, can create a compelling point of differentiation,” said Kate Vlietstra, Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst.
Meat still comprises a key portion of British diets, with 88% of Brits consuming red meat/poultry. The Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) has revealed that 23% of all new UK food product launches in 2019 were labelled as vegan, compared to 17% in 2018. However, there has been no significant increase in the number of consumers who claim to be vegan since 2018, with those following a vegan diet equating to 1% of the UK population.
“The rising popularity of flexitarian diets has helped to drive demand for meat-free products. Many consumers perceive that plant-based foods are a healthier option, and this notion is the key driver behind the reduction in meat consumption in recent years,” Vlietstra said.
The expanding meat-free market has led to brands seeking more ways to distinguish themselves from competitors, as it is no longer enough to be meat-free. Companies are striving to be more transparent about the healthiness of their products, while addressing the quality and quantity of nutrients to appeal to consumers. Meat-free products are generally targeted at young professionals, who are more receptive to trying new foods, but are also targeted at both children and over-55s.
“As food education within schools improves, it seems that the meat-free food market is missing a trick by not targeting children and families. Meanwhile, over-55s are likely to be attracted to functional health claims and clean labels,” Vlietstra said.
The research also highlighted the link between a strong awareness of environmental issues and meat production, as 48% of British consumers perceive reducing consumption of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment. Environmentally friendly packaging would also prompt 75% of meat-free users to purchase one meat-free food product over another.
“While the health benefits of eating less meat appear to still be the primary motivation of flexitarian consumers, the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance. Gen Z consumers (aged 16–24) are leading the charge here, with over half (54%) of under 25s seeing the reduction of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment,” Vlietstra said.
The top reason provided by those reducing their meat consumption is that it ‘helps to improve health’ (32%), followed by ‘it’s a good way to save money’ (31%) and ‘improving the environment’ at 25%. There is also a feel-good factor associated with meat-free products, with 79% of meat-free users indicating that eating meat-free foods makes them feel good, rising to 85% among those who have actively limited their meat intake in the last six months.
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