Vegan movement growth slows as pandemic diners turn to comfort food

The pandemic has proved to be a temporary setback for the flexitarian and vegan movements, with the proportion of adults limiting or not eating meat dropping significantly in the past year, a report has found.

The popularity of products such as bacon rolls soared as diners turned to comfort foods.

The number of diners in the UK actively limiting or reducing their meat consumption - or not eating meat in their diet – has reduced from half of all consumers in 2019 down to four in ten in 2020, according to new research from Mintel.

The report found that a search for familiar comfort foods saw the consumption of processed meats such as bacon sausages and burgers rise by around a fifth. Increased rates of homeworking have also been driving a rise in at-home lunches which helped push the sales of cooked sliced meat and poultry, such as ham, which rose nine per cent in 2020.

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Having been in decline for a number of years, stockpiling of canned meat led to a resurgence in sales in 2020, increasing 22 per cent. This comes as 58 per cent of meat and poultry eaters say that meals that contain processed meat products are comforting.

Experts said that the need for comfort food, combined with a need to meet outside fuelling the number of barbecues, meant that meat products soared in popularity.

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Edward Bergen,global food and drink analyst, said: “Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the meat reduction trend was gaining considerable momentum. The huge disruption, uncertainty and stress caused by the pandemic have caused a relaxation around some health- and ethics-driven habits among many consumers. It is not surprising that meat reduction has taken a temporary back seat, particularly given the increased desirability of familiar comfort food and that meat is seen to really deliver here. The long, hot summer and an increased need to be outside more gave a boost to sales of sausages and burgers through an increase in opportunities for barbecues.

“But the setback for the flexitarian movement is likely to be very short-lived. As the shadow of the pandemic fades, its impact in the mid- and long-term are only going to make the benefits consumers associate with eating less meat seem even more relevant and important. This includes those relating to sustainability and to people’s finance, health and weight management. With that in mind, we anticipate a flurry of new plant-based products that will continue to drive plant-based usage in a market which is driven by innovation and newness.”

Eaten by as many as half of all people, meat substitutes enjoy a widespread appeal beyond just vegetarian and vegan consumers. However, usage is strongly skewed towards the younger generation, peaking at 65 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds, and is limited among over-65s.

Mintel research reveals that half of meat substitute users prefer products which are fully plant-based or vegan, over those that contain animal-sourced ingredients such as dairy and eggs, rising to 57 per cent of millennials. Despite this, veganism remains decidedly niche with just under two per cent of the population following this diet.

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