From meatless steak bakes to plant-based Whoppers, vegan-food product launches are in full swing in the U.K. as new research from Mintel reveals a nation hungry for meat-free foods. Over the past two years, the number of Brits who have eaten meat-free foods has shot from 50% in 2017 to 65% in 2019. And sales of meat-free foods have grown 40% from £582 million in 2014 to an estimated £816 million in 2019. In fact, sales are expected to exceed £1.1 billion by 2024.
According to Mintel research, the proportion of meat eaters who have reduced or limited the amount of meat they consume has risen from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019. Women are more likely than men to have limited/reduced the amount of meat in their diets (42% compared to 36%); this rises to 45% among consumers under 45. But while the meat-free market is thriving, 38% of non-users would prefer to substitute meat with other ingredients such as cheese or pulses (edible dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas), rather than buy meat substitutes.
The flexitarian diet—primarily plant-based food, with some meat and fish—is all the buzz, but meat remains a cornerstone of Britons’ diets, with 88% of Brits eating red meat/poultry. Almost a quarter of all new U.K. food product launches in 2019 were labelled vegan, compared to 17% in 2018, but the proportion of consumers who say they are vegan has not increased significantly since 2018, with those following a vegan diet still only equating to around 1% of the UK population, according to Mintel research.
“The rising popularity of flexitarian diets has helped drive demand for meat-free products,” says Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food & drink analyst. “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.”
Brands need to go beyond meat-free
She notes that as more players enter the meat-free market, brands will need distinguishing traits to stand out. She recommends being transparent about the healthiness of products, and addressing the quality and quantity of nutrients.
“It’s no longer enough to just be meat-free,” she says.
She also recommends that brands expand their target market.
“Meat-free products are generally aimed towards young professionals, who tend to be receptive to trying new foods, but we are also likely to see these products targeted at both children and over-55s in the future. As food education within schools improves, 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.”
Environmental impact a major factor
Mintel research highlights strong awareness of environmental issues linked to meat production. Half of British consumers overall see reducing consumption of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment, and environmentally friendly packaging would prompt 75% of meat-free users/buyers to buy one meat-free food product over another.
“Whilst 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,” Vlietstra says. Nearly a third of Brits reducing meat consumption cited health as a benefit, but a quarter cited the environment.
Gen Z consumers are leading the charge, with over half of under 25s seeing the reduction of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment, she adds, noting that brands have an opportunity to appeal to them and others by addressing this.
“TV documentaries, news coverage, and celebrity influencers have 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.”
Feel-good factor also strong
Cost savings were another perceived benefit of cutting back on meat, cited by 31%. Mintel research also finds a strong “feel-good” factor associated with meat-free products: 79% of meat-free users/buyers say that eating meat-free foods makes them feel good, as do 85% of those who have actively limited or reduced their meat intake in the last six months.