In recent years, veganism has grown rapidly in the UK – for a combination of ethical and sustainable reasons – and the options available for vegans in the food industry have advanced, providing a much more sophisticated offering.
According to finder.com, there are currently around 1.4 million people following a vegan diet in the UK, which is equivalent to 2.6% of the population. What’s more, in November 2022 a study revealed that the number of vegans in the UK had increased by 445,428 people (40%) in 12 months.
But despite the growing popularity of veganism, we have recently seen fake meat brand revenues fall and it has been revealed that marketing food products as ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ no longer appeals to customers.
So, just why is this? And what can the industry do to adapt to these changes in demand?
Fake meat has always been a popular alternative for vegans, but it became especially popular throughout the Covid-19 pandemic – a time when almost one in five people in the UK were eating more vegan and/or vegetarian food.
However, the demand for plant-based meat seems to be slowly dying, with many brands reporting revenue loss or even administration, and many choosing to cut vegan options from their product range.
For example, Beyond Meat has reported that revenue has slipped by a third and Leeds-based Meatless Farm has gone into administration. Meanwhile, companies such as Heck, Oatly, Innocent and Nestle have all reduced their vegan range and Pret A Manger has closed half of its vegetarian and vegan sites.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the dip in popularity of such products is the cost-of-living crisis. A study conducted by Which? in December 2022 found that vegan sausages were regularly priced at double the price of their pork equivalents, so it’s likely that people simply can’t afford to opt for fake meat options.
As well as struggles with the cost-of-living, changing attitudes of consumers are also affecting the vegan food industry. A recent study by dairy-free cheesemaker, Julienne Bruno, revealed that almost half of UK diners (45%) would order more planet-friendly food if the ingredients were listed, instead of being labelled as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’.
More than two in five admitted to disliking the term ‘plant-based’ – even 37% of vegans – and 32% shared similar views towards the term ‘vegan’.
The research also indicated that “diners want their food to be original, taste good and offer quality produce”, suggesting that vegan food brands and restaurants need to focus more on the ingredients they use, turning to high-quality vegetables and pulses rather than lab-grown, artificial ingredients.
So, with the vegan food industry changing so drastically and consumer demands shifting, restaurants and pubs across the UK are likely to be directly affected. With this in mind, is it time for the hospitality industry to rethink its strategy and turn to more vegetable-based options rather than fake meat? And do menus need an overhaul to market vegan options as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ rather than ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’?
If you work in hospitality, we’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ll be adapting your strategy to meet the changing needs of vegan customers. You can get in touch with us on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.
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