Almost one in four of all new food products launched in the UK last year were labelled vegan, according to Mintel — an increase from 17 percent to 23 percent — while sales of meat-free foods grew by 40 percent to an estimated £816 million during the past 12 months.
Despite the rising figures, around only one percent of the UK population follows a completely plant-based diet. Instead, the number of people choosing to consume food containing meat substitutes, which rose from 50 percent in 2017 to 65 percent in 2019, and the proportion of meat-eaters who have reduced or limited the amount of meat they consume, which rose from 28 percent in 2017 to 39 percent in 2019 can be attributed to the spike in demand.
The choice to eat less meat, for 25 percent of consumers, was decided based on the desire to improve the environment, while 32 percent said it helped to improve health and 31 percent said it saved them money, according to the same report.
“The rising popularity of flexitarian diets has helped to drive demand for meat-free products,” explains Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food and 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,” she adds.
For healthy fast-food chain LEON, this change in consumer behaviour has meant sales of the brand’s vegan burger recently surpassed those of its normal meat burgers for the first time.
The 16-year-old company revealed that the percentage of vegan burger sales had already jumped from 41.3% to 56.8% in 2020, while its meat alternative products now make up almost 60% of its total sales across its restaurants.
“Vegan and veggie dishes have always been on LEON’s menus, but we’re now starting to see the market catch up,’ commented Erica Molyneaux, Head of Food at LEON.
“Sales of our vegan burgers have really taken off, with more than half of our sales now in vegan and vegetarian dishes,” she added.
Elsewhere, British bakery chain Greggs has been reported as being unable to keep up with demand for its vegan sausage roll, while KFC’s vegan burger sold out in just four days.
In the US, the market paints a similar picture, with UBS predicting that as consumer demand grows, sales of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase to $85 billion by 2030, while sales of plant-based dairy could reach $37.5 billion in 2025.
Recent notable launches, such as Starbucks adding Oatly milk to its menu in 1,300 of its cafes in the Midwest and the launch of Simple Truth, retailer Kroger’s private label plant-based brand, further demonstrates the voracity at which established brands are launching plant-based alternatives in a bid to capitalise on demand.
However, with so many products now hitting the market, “brands will need to find more ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors – it’s no longer enough to just be meat-free,” says Vlietstra.
To help distinguish themselves, “there is scope for meat-free brands to be more vocal about their environmental credentials,” she adds. “Creating a USP in holistic ‘green’ credentials, which must include environmentally friendly packaging, can also create a compelling point of differentiation.”