More than a quarter of people have reduced their meat intake over the past six months but consumers are still turned off by terms like ‘vegetarian’.
When Jeremy Corbyn revealed last month that he’s eating more vegan food it attracted headlines and column inches in all the mainstream media. Why? Corbyn is currently ‘cool’, for one, but eating less meat is even moreso.
Ten years ago Brits that chose to eat only plants numbered 150,000; today it’s 542,000 (just over 1% of the population) according to the Vegan Society. Beyonce and Jay-Z, Brad Pitt and Mo Farah are among the celebrities to have thrust veganism into mainstream thinking.
The horse-meat scandal and the World Health Organisation’s ranking of processed meats as ‘group 1 carcinogens’ have also ramped up interest in meat-free alternatives.
Research by Mintel shows more than one in four consumers (28%) have reduced or limited their meat consumption in the past six months, while another 14% are interested in doing so. This represents a massive opportunity for food brands and suggests ‘flexitarianism’ is no fad.
“The flexitarian trend carves a very accessible and unrestricted middle ground between simply meat eaters and non-meat eaters,” says Mintel’s senior food analyst Emma Clifford. And on top of the various benefits (animal welfare, health and environmental), it’s also become aspirational, she adds, with social media “playing an important role in the attraction of this endeavour”.
But the challenge now is how to market plant-based foods – whether they’re alternatives or more exciting veggie options – without sounding preachy.
“Coming here from Portland is like stepping back five years,” suggests Derek Sarno, chef, co-founder of the Wicked Healthy food blog and the new director of plant-based innovation at Tesco.
Sarno, speaking personally rather than for his new employer, says his focus is clear: “We won’t be telling anyone to give anything up; vegetables are being manipulated and twisted to entice people to eat them.”