More tofu? Supermarkets flesh out their vegan credentials as clean eating grows

27 May 2017

Stores are racing to stock more lines of non-dairy, meat-free food as clean-eating trend boosts numbers of UK flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans.

How about slapping an avocado and peanut burger on the barbecue this weekend?

If you’re sticking with steaks, you are missing a trend in which rising numbers of Brits are joining famous names such as Jeremy Corbyn, former president Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt – and choosing to go meat-free.

Tesco says demand for vegetarian and vegan readymeals and snacks has soared 40% in the past year, prompting the UK’s biggest supermarket to introduce new labelling to flag up all its vegan products.

The Tesco move comes a few months after rival grocer Asda became the first UK supermarket to use the Vegan Society trademark on its products, starting with vegan vodka.

With growing awareness of the environmental impact of meat eating and the trend for plant-based “clean eating”, the market research firm Mintel says 11% of Brits say they have at least tried to follow a vegan diet – cutting out all animal products from their diet, including meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey.

Even those who can’t cut out the burgers or bolognese do appear to be trying to cut down on meat consumption.

The number of light meat-eaters, consuming animal flesh only about three times a week, is up 8% in the last two years. Meanwhile the number of serious carnivores – those who put part of an animal on their plate about 10 times a week – is down 14%..

While once vegans were viewed as largely Guardian-reading sandal-wearers, they have now gone almost mainstream. A decade ago there were just 150,000 UK vegans, but the Vegan Society says there are more than half a million.

There are also plenty of glossy celebrities shunning all animal products, from Pamela Anderson and Miley Cyrus to Spiderman star Tobey Maguire and boxer David Haye.Tennis star Novak Djokovic has his own vegan restaurant.

Nearly 5% of the UK population now consider themselves vegetarian – up from around 4% three years ago. And many more people are choosing to be “flexitarians” opting for veggie or vegan options a few times a week .

Tesco has teamed up with a tech company, called Spoon Guru, to help vegetarians and vegans find suitable foods on its website and the grocer’s development director Kate Ewart said it was developing new products for customers “to impress their vegetarian and vegan guests at parties and barbecues.”

Retailers and food producers are racing to meet demand: vegan foods accounted for 9% of all new food products launched in the UKlast year, up from 3% in 2012, according to Mintel.

According to Sainsbury’s the trend is clear: sales of frozen meat-free products are up almost a quarter year-on-year, lentils are up by 18%, chickpeas by 14% and canned beans such as kidney beans and black beans are flying off the shelves – the latter has risen 39% in the last 12 months. Sales of plant-based milk are up 29% over the past two years. Susi Richards, Sainsbury’s head of product development, said: “Plant-based eating is taking the health-world by storm and there’s a fundamental shift in how people are looking at their plates.”

Pret a Manger, the London-based coffee shop chain, has just opened its second veggie-only outlet after double-digit percentage rises in sales of vegetarian food. Clive Schlee, chief executive, said the chain had introduced 20 new products including a vegan macaroni cheese and a vegan brownie in response to customer demand.

Schlee, who admitted he is also trying to eat less meat, said: “Of course there are good reasons to eat less meat. Aside from the animal welfare arguments, the UN says that the single most important step an individual can take to reduce global warming is to adopt a meat and dairy-free diet.”

Emma Clifford, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said committed vegans still made up a tiny proportion of the population. But she added: “The appeal of vegan products has extended far beyond the limited pool of steadfast vegans. They have carved a place within overall healthy and varied diets. The powerful plant-based message makes these products increasingly attractive to health-oriented consumers, with benefits linked to animal ethics and the environment enabling consumers to feel holistically virtuous in their choice.”

The influence of trendy clean-eating proponents such as Ella Woodward, of the Deliciously Ella blog, and actor Gwyneth Paltrow is partly behind that trend, and particularly prevalent among young people. Nearly a third of under-35s say they want to try a vegan diet .

The pressure on meat-eaters is likely to be raised later this year when The Game Changers documentary is released. The movie, co-produced by Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron and mixed martial arts fighter James Wilks – both vegans – is understood to focus on athletes, soldiers, scientists and cultural figures who want to change the way the world lives and eats.

Well-promoted efforts such as Veganuary and the Vegan Society’s Vegan Pledge, in which people attempt not to eat animal products for 30 days have also helped raise interest. In 2014, just 3,656 signed the pledge; in 2016 it rose to 17,411, with even more expected this year.

 

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