The availability of vegan sandwich options has increased, with Tesco and Pret A Manger having expanded their ranges considerably. However, meat remains the dominant ingredient and there is very little information on where it comes from.
The new research, conducted by the Eating Better Alliance across 12 retailers and 620 sandwiches, showed that 9% (57) of the sandwiches on offer were plant-based, up from 4% in the previous survey (2016). And for the first time, all of the retailers assessed offered at least one plant-based option.
Meat dominates the market, but the researchers found information regarding provenance hard to find. “If you’re looking to understand where the meat comes from in your sandwich you will struggle,” they said.
Indeed, one in three sandwiches (33%) contained meat of “unknown origin”. Boots and Subway were the worst offenders, followed by Eat, Pret and Tesco.
Only two of the 357 meat sandwiches carried any “better meat” certification – one pork sandwich and one chicken one, both in the premium range at Sainsbury’s, had RSPCA Assured logos. Eating Better defines better meat and dairy as from animals that are fed a natural diet, have a known provenance and are produced to high animal welfare, environmental and quality standards, with responsible use of antibiotics.
The sheer volume of meat-based sandwiches is a big concern, said Simon Billing, executive director of Eating Better. “The good news is that some retailers are responding to consumer demand for more plant-based options. But given the urgency of our climate and biodiversity crisis they need to double down on their efforts to support options that are better for the environment.”
UK consumers eat 11.5 billion sandwiches a year, generating carbon emissions equivalent to the annual use of 8.6m cars. “Reducing or avoiding certain sandwich fillings, in particular meat and cheese, can really help make your lunch choices much more environmentally friendly,” the researchers said.
In the UK, 48% of people are willing or already committed to cutting down or cutting out meat, according to a YouGov survey in April. Awareness of the negative impacts of meat for the environment has grown: 29% of those surveyed cited climate change as a key reason to eat less meat.