Experts Concerned As Hike In Vegan Food Sales Doesn’t Lead To A Decline In Meat’s

Researchers said supermarkets “have an important role to play" in encouraging consumers to choose plant-based food


3 Minutes Read

Vegan and vegetarian food and meat products at Waitrose supermarket The annual Veganuary campaign tends to result in a sharp increase of plant-based food sales - Media Credit: Stephen Frost / Alamy Stock Photo

The sharp rise in plant-based food sales in the UK did not result in a similar decline of meat sales, a new study has found. 

University of Surrey researchers looked at UK supermarket sales during Veganuary 2021. They discovered that average weekly sales of plant-based food grew by 57 percent. There wasn’t, however, any reciprocal reduction in those of meat. 

“Our study suggests that while retail-led campaigns are driving increased sales of plant-based, we are not yet seeing meat replacement at scale, which is key to drive progress toward healthy, sustainable diets,” said Joanna Trewern, lead author of the study.

Trewern also argued that retailers “have an important role to play in enabling the adoption of healthier, more sustainable consumer diets.” 

She added: “It’s great to see them taking action, but more is needed to reduce our reliance on meat and dairy.” 

The rise of plant-based products

Plant-based food sales spiked the most at superstores and in low-income areas, according to the report. This, researchers say, indicates that retailers are succeeding in making vegan and vegetarian products more affordable.

A number of discount supermarkets have been offering their own range of budget-friendly plant-based products. Aldi and Lidl are key examples, with the former’s Plant Kitchen range seeing particular success. In 2021, Aldi saw a 250 percent increase in sales of its vegan range compared to the previous year. 

The plant-based food industry was valued at a staggering $29.4 billion in 2020. And, it’s been forecast to grow to more than $162 billion by 2030. It is thought that it will make up 7.7 percent of the global protein market at that time. 

Flexitarians boost the market

According to a report published in 2021, plant-based food companies like Oatly, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods are driving the change. But non-vegan companies like Kellogs and Nestlé have also been getting in on the action, expanding their own plant-based ranges in recent months. 

The growth of plant-based food is partly driven by the rise in veganism. But it can also be attributed to the huge number of people who describe themselves as “flexitarian.”

Flexitarianism generally includes those who mostly avoid eating meat, but aren’t entirely vegan or vegetarian. It is thought that around 16 percent of British consumers consider themselves flexitarian. This is compared to six percent who are vegetarian, and four percent who are vegan. 

Why are people ditching meat?

Many people stop eating meat for animal cruelty reasons. But a growing number are doing so because of environmental concerns, too.

Animal agriculture is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also a leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion.

The National Food Strategy recommended a minimum 30 percent reduction in meat consumption to support the UK’s net zero pledge. However, many experts have proposed more dramatic cuts. 

A 2018 University of Oxford study, for example, said that beef consumption must be reduced by 90 percent in the western world to avoid climate collapse.

“For there to be any chance of meeting UK climate change targets, government, food companies, civil society, scientists, and health professionals need to work together urgently to implement action plans and policies that can deliver swift and sustained change,” said Trewern.

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