The market intelligence agency Mintel has confirmed the rise of the flexitarian, and how this trend is affecting the food industry. According to a Press Release Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows that almost a quarter (23%) of all new UK food product launches in 2019 were labelled as vegan. This is an increase from 17% in 2018. Interestingly it has not found a significant increase in the proportion of consumers who say they are vegan since in the past twelve months. Mintel’s research suggests that the number of vegans in the UK is still only about 1% of the population.
The research confirms that women are more likely than men to reduce the amount of meat in their diets (42% compared to 36%). The figure is higher at 45% among under-45s. The trend is inexorably going up with only 28% of consumers significantly reducing their meat intake in 2017. These “flexitarians” eat predominantly plant-based food, with some meat and fish.
The primary reason given by nearly a third of those cutting back on meat is that it ‘helps to improve health’. The second reason cited is that ‘it’s a good way to save money’.
Kate Vlietstra, a Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, summarised the findings:
“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, and this notion is the key driver behind the reduction in meat consumption in recent years.
“As the meat-free market becomes increasingly crowded, brands will need to find more ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors – it’s no longer enough to just be meat-free. Companies will need to be transparent about the healthiness of their products, and also address the quality and quantity of nutrients to win over the discerning consumer. 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, it seems that 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.”
On-going growth of the meat-free food market
In the past two years, there has been a significant rise in the number of Britons who have eaten meat-substitute foods. Some 65% of Britons have done so in 2019, up from 50% two years earlier. The meat-free food market had an estimated value of £816m in 2019. This represents a 40% increase since 2014. The market is on-tract, according to Mintel, to exceed £1.1 billion by 2024.
Nevertheless, despite the rise of the flexitarian diet, meat remains a cornerstone of the British diet with 88% of Brits eating red meat and poultry.
Awareness of the effect of eating meat on the environment
The environmental impact of our food choices is now an important consideration for consumers. Almost half of British consumers (48%) consider reducing consumption of animal products as a good way to lessen the human impact on the environment. Some three-quarters of consumers would choose a meat-free product based on a measure of environmentally-friendly packaging.
“Whilst the health benefits of eating less meat appear to still be the primary motivation of flexitarian consumers,” said Ms Vlietstra, “the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance. Gen Z consumers (aged 16-24) are leading the charge here, with over half (54%) of under 25s seeing the reduction of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment.
“TV documentaries, news coverage and celebrity influencers have all 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.”
Mintel’s research highlights a strong ‘feel good’ factor associated with eating meat-free products. A huge 79% of meat-free consumers say that eating meat-free foods makes them feel good. The figure is even higher, 85%, for flexitarians who have actively reduced their meat intake for the last six months.