The move to meat-free

Health, social media and effective campaigning are driving the shift to meat-free and flexitarian diets, explains Roisin Monaghan from Pragma Consulting.

Over a quarter of meat-eating Brits have reduced or limited their meat consumption in the last six months, and since 2016 sales of meat-free products have jumped 4% to £559m and are projected to grow by almost a fifth by 2021.

It's not only vegans and vegetarians that contribute to this growth. There are now 22 million "flexitarians" (those who switch between vegan, vegetarian and meat meals) within the UK, and an increasing number of pescatarians. So, what are the factors driving this shift?

  1. The perceived dangers of eating too much meat. Half of Britons who have reduced their meat consumption believe that eating too much meat is bad for their health. There has been increased media coverage of the cancer-causing effects of meat-heavy diets so there is no doubt that a major factor for the increased demand in meat-free foods are the perceived health benefits.
  2. Meat-free campaigns. Campaigns such as "Meat-Free Mondays" or "Veganuary" (where people try out a vegan diet for January)have become popular. In 2014, participants of Veganuary numbered a mere 3,300, but this increased to 168,000 this year (and that was only those who enrolled online).
  3. The influence of social media. Social media, particularly Instagram, is playing an important role in the promotion of meat-free diets. Instagram is the go-to place for food inspiration and #vegan has been used in over 57 million posts. Similarly, vloggers, such as Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters, are using social media to make an impact: 16% of Brits cite vloggers as their influence to reduce the amount of meat they eat.
  4. Supermarkets go vegan. Supermarkets are expanding their meat-free ranges. In early June, Waitrose increased their vegan/vegetarian range by 60%, and now include up-and-coming brands like The Happy Pear and The Vegetarian Butcher. Tesco, meanwhile, launched the Vivera's plant-based steak (the first in the UK) and Sainsbury's introduced meat- and dairy-free burgers by Naturli Foods – and these are placed alongside meat products to encourage more shoppers to give them a try.
  5. Role models. Celebrities are backing flexitarian diets. Beyoncé developed the "22 Days Nutrition" meal planner, alongside her husband Jay Z, which challenges her 22 million Instagram followers to try a more plant-based lifestyle. Athletes are also cutting out animal products from their diets. Tennis player Novak Djokovic has suggested that turning vegan was one of the main reasons behind his rise to world number one. Similarly, Manchester United footballer Chris Smalling is convinced a vegan diet has helped him avoid stress-related muscle injuries. Fellow soccer stars Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero both now follow a vegan diet.

Of course, all this interest in meat-free has been great for the likes of Quorn – the meat substitute manufacturer enjoyed a global sales increase of 16% to £205m in 2017, the largest annual increase since it was launched.

However, it's the smaller brands that are the ones to watch. Freaks of Nature, for example, makes vegan-friendly desserts, and in just 18 months went from an idea to being listed in Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons. Moving Mountains, which was launched in the UK earlier this year, is the UK's first meatless "bleeding" burger. It has been dubbed the UK's answer to Beyond Burger, a meat-free burger made by the US start-up Beyond Meat which has been outselling meat burgers in mainstream stores in California.

With supermarkets citing that customers are asking for more vegan and vegetarian options in store, there is clearly an opportunity for new meat-free products.

This article was originally published by Pragma Consulting.

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