Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
It wasn’t that long ago that vegans were seen as hippies that lived off of lettuce and carrots. Needless to say, veganism has come a long way, not only in people’s views of the lifestyle and number of people who call themselves vegans, but in the sheer volume of vegan food options in retailers and foodservice outlets. And whilst many may see veganism as just a trend, The Vegan Society says this is one trend that’s here to stay.
They could be on to something: the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, according to research commissioned by The Vegan Society. In 2019, there were 600,000 vegans, and that number is likely to grow over the next few years, not least in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, during COVID-19, a survey by The Vegan Society showed that 1 in 5 Brits had cut down their meat consumption during the pandemic, while 15% had reduced their dairy or egg intake. What’s more, 43% of these people chose to reduce their consumption out of concern for health, environmental or animal rights reasons, with many also saying they’d continue to buy plant-based alternatives they tried during lockdown in the future.
“A lot of people today are more conscious of where their food comes from,” Kate Denyer, marketing director at Field & Forest Foods, says. “I think they also see the health benefits of reducing meat. The development of products that are equally as good as meat makes people realise that vegan food isn’t as bad as they perceived it to be. When you sit down in a restaurant and know you can get a really good meat-free alternative and be equally as satisfied as you would be with a steak, it becomes easier to choose that option, and I think sometimes people prefer it once they’ve given it a try.
“It’s a generation thing as well. I think, in particular, teenagers and people in their early 20s and 30s are more conscious of the ethical angle and how their food is produced. If they have an influence on their family then that’s great.”
The vegan trifecta
When it comes to purchasing plant-based products, many people are likely to cite at least one of three key factors in their decision, no matter how ‘extreme’ they may take the diet or lifestyle.
Jane Osborne, owner of vegetarian and vegan caterer The Fat Carrot, explains: “There are three common driving forces behind veganism. Firstly, the planet: it’s more environmentally friendly to be meat free. The second aspect is the animals: it’s kinder to animals to be vegan. And the third is for you: there are many health benefits to being plant-based.
“I really hope kindness to the planet and animals is a long-lived moral ethic and not a passing ‘trend’. I have certainly seen it grow hugely as part of my business over the last eight years.
“People are also using the term vegan to describe things that were already vegan, so its value as a concept and selling tool in the food sector has really increased.”
Over the years, as more research has revealed the various benefits to a plant-based lifestyle, it’s only added to the interest in the movement, with a growing number of people keen to make more conscious choices. Throw in the rise of social media influencers and a global pandemic, and it’s no surprise that veganism has reached a much broader and larger audience.
“Enhanced interest will always influence others, so the more popular veganism gets, the faster it will grow,” Alan Bird, commercial director of Purition, says. “There are also key calendar moments and events, such as Veganuary, where we see a surge in sales of our vegan range.”
“I think the global pandemic has contributed towards the interest in plant-based diets, too. In lockdown, people were either incredibly health-conscious or they were slipping into indulgent snacking habits. Those who have been eating more unhealthily may now try to reverse any weight gain as we start leaving our homes more and look to a vegan diet as a way to get back on track.
Alan continues: “Consumer trends are influencing the younger generation where there is a high concentration of vegans and flexitarians, particularly on social media with influencers and celebrities offering tips and recipes for plant-based foods. The conversations are louder, and I think many are inspired to try a vegan diet by these tastemakers. It’s also not the case of 10 years ago where there were little-to-no options available. You can now go to a restaurant and have the choice of five or six dishes, rather than just one or two.”
There’s no doubt that veganism is on the rise, and regardless of people’s reasons for consuming more plant-based products, it’s proving to be a profitable sector for those in the food industry, from producers, to retailers and foodservice outlets – and it’s likely to continue in the future.
Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators