Almost a quarter (23%) of all new food product launches in the UK last year were labelled as vegan, up from 17% in 2018, confirming that the meat-free consumer trend is growing apace, a new report from Mintel has revealed.

The research firm also found that, over just two years, the proportion of UK consumers who eat meat substitutes increased from 50% in 2017 to around two-thirds (65%) in 2019.

Meanwhile, the proportion of meat eaters who reduced or limited the amount of meat they consume rose from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019, with women more likely than men to have done so (42% compared to 36%).

And this trend, which is underpinned to a large extent by consumer demand for healthy food options coupled with concern about the environment, is driving significant commercial benefits for meat-free food brands and retailers.

According to Mintel, sales of meat-free foods have grown 40% from £582m in 2014 to an estimated £816m in 2019 – and it is expected that sales will continue to grow to more than £1.1bn by 2024.

“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,” said Kate Vlietstra, global food & drink analyst at Mintel.

“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,” she added.

This is important because the Mintel research highlighted strong awareness among consumers about the health and environmental issues linked to meat production.

Their top reason for cutting back on eating meat is a belief that it helps to improve health (32%), followed by saving money (31%) and improving the environment (25%).

Almost half (48%) of UK consumers regard a reduction in the consumption of animal products as a good way to lessen the impact on the environment, while three-quarters (75%) of meat-free users would choose one meat-free product over another if it came in environmentally-friendly packaging.

“Whilst the health benefits of eating less meat appear to still be the primary motivation of flexitarian consumers, the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance,” Vlietstra said.

Sourced from Mintel; additional content by WARC staff