British consumers prioritising health drive strong sales in meat and dairy

Meat and dairy products were a hit with UK consumers in January, as meat-free volume declines outpaced their meat counterparts and dairy-free products experienced less demand compared to last year.

According to the AHDB, it would appear food trends during January changed, with greater opportunities for red meat and dairy to be eaten by consumers as part of a more health-conscious start to the year.

In January 2023, the levy board saw poor performance for both meat-free and dairy-free products compared to January 2022. This resulted in some retailers attempting to position plant-based products with health-focused messaging within stores this year, rather than promoting Veganuary 2024 as a standalone occasion (IGD).

The cost-of-living crisis can be attributed to a large proportion of the 12.8% and 3.8% year-on-year (YoY) volume decline for meat- and dairy-free products respectively (Kantar, 3 w/e 21 Jan 2024; Nielsen, 4 w/e 27 Jan 2024). This is because meat- and dairy-free products are 3.3% and 18.4% more expensive than their animal product competitors respectively.

Retailers’ efforts to try and increase the pick-up of meat-free products during this health-focused month weren’t very successful, as the percentage of baskets with meat-free products fell 0.4 percentage points YoY, to 4.1% (Kantar, 3 w/e 21 Jan 2024). This indicates that consumers’ interest in meat-free products is waning, despite attempts to market them as healthy following the indulgent Christmas period.

As expected, due to retailers focusing on health messaging, volumes for all plant-based dairy products were up for the 4 weeks of January 2024 (+6.4%) compared to an average 4-week period for the 52 w/e 27 January 2024 (Nielsen).

The Grocer reported just 28% of UK adults attempting Veganuary actually complete it, and most are unlikely to continue purchasing meat-free products for the rest of the year. This suggests consumers have a fleeting interest in a meat-free lifestyle, and meat-free products are not a big threat to the meat industry at this point in time, the AHDB concluded. While it is likely that new plant-based product development will be limited, meat and dairy may still face competition from cheap staple alternative products, like pasta and potatoes.

Tom Price, retail and consumer insight analyst at AHDB, noted that media coverage’s recent focused on the negative nutritional values of ultra-processed foods, is putting off many consumers eating these products.

“This, alongside slowing inflation and the potential for real wages to grow in 2024, means health is becoming more of a priority for consumers,” Price said. “This provides an opportunity to promote the health benefits of meat and dairy to align with consumer values. AHDB continues to promote red meat and dairy as part of a healthy, balanced diet in our ‘Let’s Eat Balanced’ and ‘Love Pork’ campaigns, and our recent meat labelling research highlights the consumer desire to see meal inspiration, both on-pack and in-store, to give them confidence in their cooking.”

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