The UK’s plant-based food market is witnessing a remarkable growth trajectory, with projections indicating that sales of meat-free foods will surpass £1.1 billion by 2024. This significant rise reflects a growing consumer shift towards vegan and plant-based diets. In 2019 alone, 23% of all new food product launches in the UK were labelled vegan. This trend indicates consumers’ evolving dietary preferences and increasing demand for plant-based options.
The Rising Popularity of Vegan Food Products
The UK food industry has observed an impressive surge in vegan and plant-based food products. From innovative offerings like meatless steak bakes to plant-based versions of popular fast-food items like Whoppers, the diversity and availability of vegan options have grown exponentially. Research from Mintel highlights this expansion: from 2017 to 2019, Brits consuming meat-free foods soared from 50% to 65%.
The sales figures mirror this trend, with a remarkable 40% increase in the market, growing from £582 million in 2014 to an estimated £816 million in 2019. The steady rise in the popularity of plant-based foods is not just a fleeting trend but a robust market shift, with sales expected to exceed £1.1 billion by 2024 comfortably.
Changing Dietary Habits Among Meat Eaters
A significant and growing number of meat eaters are actively transitioning towards plant-based diets. Mintel’s research reveals that the proportion of meat eaters who have reduced or limited their meat consumption increased from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019. This shift is more pronounced among specific demographics, particularly women and individuals under 45 years of age.
However, about 38% of the population still prefers to replace meat with other ingredients like cheese or pulses rather than opting for meat substitutes. Despite the increasing interest in plant-based foods, meat continues to be a mainstay in the diets of most Britons, with 88% consuming red meat/poultry.
The Emergence and Impact of the Flexitarian Diet
The concept of a flexitarian diet, which primarily consists of plant-based foods with occasional meat and fish, is gaining traction. This diet represents a balanced approach, appealing to those who are not ready to commit to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle fully but are conscious of their meat consumption.
Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) reinforces this trend, showing that nearly a quarter (23%) of all new UK food product launches in 2019 were vegan. Despite this, the overall percentage of consumers who identify as vegan remains relatively low, at around 1% of the UK population.
Kate Vlietstra, a Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, emphasizes the importance of this trend: “The rising popularity of flexitarian diets has helped to drive demand for meat-free products. Many consumers perceive that plant-based foods are a healthier option. As the meat-free market becomes increasingly crowded, brands must find more ways to distinguish themselves…”
The Environmental and Health Motivations Behind Plant-Based Diets
Health concerns and a growing awareness of environmental issues motivate the shift towards plant-based foods. Approximately half of British consumers (48%) believe that reducing the consumption of animal products is a beneficial way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment.
Moreover, environmentally friendly packaging is a significant factor for meat-free food buyers, with 75% indicating that it influences their purchasing decisions. When asked about the benefits of eating less meat, the top reasons cited include improving health (32%), saving money (31%), and positively impacting the environment (25%).
Vlietstra adds: “Whilst the health benefits of eating less meat appear to be still the primary motivation…the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance…there is scope for meat-free brands to be more vocal about their environmental credentials.”
The Role of Younger Generations and Media in Promoting Plant-Based Diets
Younger generations, especially Gen Z, are at the forefront of advocating for reduced meat consumption for environmental reasons. Influences such as TV documentaries, news coverage, and celebrity endorsements have played a significant role in raising awareness about the environmental impacts of meat consumption. This presents an opportunity for meat-free brands to emphasise their ecological credentials, creating a unique selling proposition.
Future Market Trends and Opportunities
As the plant-based food market continues to evolve, there are emerging trends and opportunities for brands to capitalise on. The market is becoming increasingly competitive, and brands must differentiate themselves by focusing on their products’ healthiness, nutritional value, and environmental impact. The increasing consumer awareness and demand for sustainable, ethically produced food open new avenues for innovation