Surge in UK vegan products

The share of meat-free new products carrying a vegan/no animal ingredients claim nearly doubled in 2014-17, according to recent research by Mintel.

In 2017, more than half (52%) of new product launches in the meat-free foods market were vegan/contained no animal ingredients, up from 28% in 2014.

The research also indicates that the popularity of meat-free foods extends well beyond the small pool of non-meat eaters that describe themselves as vegan (around 600,000 UK adults, according to 2016 research by the Vegan Society). As many as 56% of UK adults ate vegetarian/meat-free products in the six months to July 2018, a significant increase from the 50% who ate them in the six months up to March 2017.

Sales of meat-free foods (including a growing range of vegan products) have risen by 22% between 2013-18 and are estimated to reach £740 million in 2018. Growth is set to continue as value sales of the meat-free market are predicted to increase by a further 44% to reach £1.1 billion by 2023.

Alyson Parkes, research analyst at Mintel, said: “Although the meat-free market is not vegan by definition, there has been a significant increase in the number of new products that carry a vegan claim. Vegan claims in the market span own-label products as well as branded ones, signalling that supermarkets are also keen to capitalise on this interest. The appeal of meat-free products also extends far beyond the still very limited pool of vegan consumers. The rising profile of meat-free products and plant-based diets has been helped by activity in the foodservice arena and a significant advertising push in 2018, which has increased the visibility and awareness of these products among consumers, as well as injected excitement into the category.”

The rise in popularity may be due to the fact that Brits as a whole are reducing their meat intake. While 90% of UK adults are red meat or poultry eaters, 34% reduced their meat consumption in 2018, rising to 40% among 25-34 years olds. A further 21% said they would be interested in limiting/reducing the meat consumption in the future.

Reductions in meat consumption have been linked to three perceived benefits: improving health (32%, saving money (31%) and being better for the environment (25%).

“The benefits associated with eating less meat extend far beyond health, also encompassing animal ethics and the environment. The multi-dimensional appeal of the meat-free trend bodes well for its longevity.” added Parkes.

To increase the appeal of meat-free foods to traditional meat-eaters, and improve the experience for non-meat eaters, manufacturers are looking at how they can increase the ‘meatiness’ of meat-free foods, going so far as creating plant-based burgers that ‘bleed’ when cooked.

“This meat-replicating feature certainly makes the concept of meat-free foods more newsworthy and intriguing for consumers which, combined with health credentials, ethical claims and environmental considerations, creates a compelling proposition.” said Parkes.

Despite this, Mintel research confirms that there is some confusion and concern surrounding meat-free foods, with 44% of Brits unclear about what ingredients are used in these foods, with 31% of consumers believing that some meat-free products contain too many ingredients and are too processed to be considered healthier than meat.

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