Flexitarian movement falters … but probably not for long

The pandemic has stopped the plant-based eating movement in its tracks. New research by Mintel shows that 41% of British consumers said they ate no or less meat last year, compared to 51% in 2019.

Breakfast and barbecue favourites like bacon (sales up 18%), sausages (up 20%) and burgers (up 26%) are back in favour, for example. Homemade lunches also resulted in increased sales of cooked meats. Processed meat is “comforting” said 58% of consumers.

But this setback for the flexitarian movement is likely to be very short-lived, according to Mintel global food and drink analyst Edward Bergen. In time, the pandemic will serve to make the benefits people associate with eating less meat “even more relevant and important”, he said.

For instance, 42% of Brits now feel that eating less meat is ‘better for the environment’; in 2018 it was just 25%.

The experts predict a “flurry” of new plant-based products, some of which have been held up during covid.

Indeed, Bloomberg reported this week that McDonald’s has quietly begun selling its McPlant burger in Denmark and Sweden. “This is a game-changing moment for the sustainability of our food system,” said Sophie Armour from the Good Food Institute Europe. "McDonald's just made sustainable plant-based meat ultra convenient for people in Europe.”

The burger in the trials is made from pea-based protein, Bloomberg reported, and has been co-developed with Beyond Meat.

Beyond Meat last week announced a joint venture with PepsiCo to develop, produce and market plant-based drinks and snacks.

Innovation in the foodservice space has certainly stalled – but not entirely. “It’s been a really mixed bag,” Veganuary’s corporate outreach manager Zoe West told Footprint earlier this month. While some businesses have put plans for new innovation on ice to focus on their current ranges, others have continued to forge ahead.

“We know that plant-based consumption isn’t just a fad, it’s here to stay,” said Clive Moxham, group commercial director at London-based distributor Leathams.

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