The rise of meat-free

With January 2020 now firmly upon us, an estimated 350,000 have signed up to Veganuary – a month-long pledge to eating a plant-based diet. In 2019, more than 250 000 people took part, with 47% opting to stay vegan even after the end of the month. With the number of participants doubling year on year from Veganuary’s debut in 2014 to 2019, both vegan and vegetarianism are undoubtably on the up – however the trend towards meat-reduction and meat-free living has proved to be much wider than Veganuary alone. In 2018, Kantar data showed more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK were currently meat-free, while YouGov’s whitepaper ‘Is the future of food flexitarian’ suggests even self-confessed meat lovers are beginning to restrict their red meat consumption.

Retailers are scrambling to keep up, meaning for vegetarians and vegans across the nation, the days of a paltry nut roast and quips about ‘rabbit food’ are fast becoming history. In 2019 alone, M&S launched their Plant Kitchen range, McDonalds joined the ranks with their first vegetarian Happy Meal, and TGI Fridays expanded their meat-free repertoire with a ‘bleeding’ vegan burger. Even Percy the pig went veggie, following a panel vote, which put 60% in favour of making the M&S jelly sweets gelatin-free for the foreseeable. When Greggs hit the headlines with the launch of a vegan sausage roll in March, news outlets across the nation jumped on the bandwagon, with a flurry of taste tests, comparisons and twitter debates – all seeking to answer the one question of whether the vegan alternative was a match for its meatier counterpart (the answer, typically seemed to be a yes).

And while supermarkets and retailers have been quick to adapt, the momentum of meat-free has opened the door for a whole host of brands specializing in vegan or vegetarian alternatives. While Quorn continues to lead the way in the UK, competition has increased exponentially – and the competitors are thriving. As CNBC reported earlier last year, the meat-alternative brand Beyond Meat has seen 600% increase in stock value, while competitor Impossible Foods has reportedly been valued as highly at five billion dollars in secondary markets. At the other end of the scale even brands which have long led the way for quality poultry/meat or fish have begun to take tentative steps into the meat-free category – in spring 2019, frozen food giant Birds Eye launched a meat-free range of burgers, meatballs and sausages, all made from pea protein.

So, in a world where veganism has well and truly entered the mainstream, the main question left is the obvious one – what’s driving the change? The answer, evidence suggests, is three-fold – a combination of growing concern for animal welfare, increased awareness of the need for environmental sustainability and an awareness of the effects of red meat on health. While animal welfare has long been one of the biggest drivers to a meat-free lifestyle, sustainability has arguably become the hot topic of the previous decade, with more and more of us turning to meat reducing/ free diets in a move to be more sustainable. From Iceland’s ‘banned’ Christmas advert of 2018, exploring the deforestation caused by palm oil usage, to Greta Thunberg’s activism on climate change – as a planet, we’re becoming more environmentally minded. In 2019, much loved environmentalist and documentarist David Attenborough revealed he ‘no longer has the same appetite for meat’, in part due to the situation we find ourselves in.

And the outcome? Well, workers at Greggs recently got a £300 bonus on the back of last year’s success, so who’s complaining?