Aside from the increase in the number of people opting for a strictly vegan diet, flexitarian diets are on the rise, which is good news for meatless FMCG brands and grocery retailers. Donna Ahern reports.
The increase in demand for plant-based or meat-free alternatives is showing no sign of abating, with sales of products in this category continuing their strong upward trajectory.
In fact, going meat-free has never looked so good.
There is now a vast array of plant-based alternatives to meat products for consumers to choose from.
While not everyone wants to fully commit to a 100% vegan lifestyle, terms such as ‘flexitarianism’ and concepts such as ‘Veganuary’ or ‘Meat-Free Monday,’ are driving awareness and encouraging consumers to try alternatives to meat, even on an ad-hoc basis.
The move to introduce meat free alternatives follows a continued shift in dietary patterns among Irish consumers, with up to 34% of the population purchasing meat free alternatives at least weekly, according to research published by Bord Bia – that is an increase of 8% since the beginning of the pandemic.
It seems that Irish households are not only becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits of meat-free products, they are recognising the detrimental impact that animal agriculture can have on the environment and are taking this responsibility very seriously.
Research conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes on behalf of Checkout, which looked at buying habits within this category during the month of January 2021, revealed that a large number of Irish consumers (71%) said that they had purchased a free-from food at some point, which is a step in the right direction.
Looking at meat-free products, 12% of survey respondents said that they buy free-from meat products because of general concerns that they have over the way animals are treated or how food is sourced, while just 3% said that they bought free-from foods because they were vegan or followed a vegan diet.
Aside from the rising number of consumers turning to a solely plant- based or vegetarian diet, the success of Meat-Free Monday, the global campaign encouraging people to go one day a week without any meat in their meals, proves that this is a dietary habit that is here to stay.
With more and more people trying to cut down on their consumption of animal products, Meat-Free Monday is now a regular occurrence in many households around the globe.
Closer to home, the growing appetite for meat-free options is something that FMCG brands and grocery retailers are all too aware of. According to the Bord Bia research, in the 12 weeks up to June 2020, there was a 109% increase year-on-year in sales of ambient meat substitutes in Ireland, while sales of fresh meat substitutes increased by 60%.
More recent research conducted by NielsenIQ on behalf of Checkout echoed a similar sentiment and highlighted the increase in demand for meat-free products.
For the 52 weeks to 7 November 2021, the sale of meat-free prepacked sausages surged by 51% compared to the same period the previous year.
Meat-free fresh meals increased by 15% year-on-year.
“Meat free is a category that has seen strong growth over the past three years as it established itself off a small base,” says Katie Varian, senior retail account manager, NielsenIQ.
Consumers are increasingly opting for meat-free alternatives for both health and environmental reasons and brands recognise this, with many having recently introduced meat-free extensions to their product range.
“With sustainability top of mind for consumers, this is a category that will surely continue to grow,” says Katie. “However, work still has to be done to ensure affordability for all.”
Most Googled Brands
Research published by commercial kitchens experts Maxima Kitchen Equipment earlier this year revealed the world’s most
Googled vegan brand.
The study analysed the monthly searches for 100 of the most popular vegan brands to discover the seven most sought-after in the world.
The research revealed that Beyond Meat is the world’s most searched-for vegan brand.
The producer of plant-based sausages, burgers, and beef pulls in more than 422,000 searches a month – more than twice as many searches as its nearest competitor.
Despite this, the red-hot plant-based meat maker reported slowing demand in both grocery stores and restaurants across the globe.
It was widely reported that the company, which generates the bulk of its revenue from retailers, had cut its third-quarter revenue forecast in October as it took a hit from fewer people stockpiling plant-based burgers and sausages at home after they returned to dining out.
Oatly, whose backers included celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Jay Z, is the world’s second most Googled vegan brand.
The company – which creates oat-based alternatives to milk, yoghurt and ice-cream – rakes in almost 200,000 searches a month, well ahead of the average searches for all brands on the list (127,000). This doesn’t come as a surprise.
In August this year, Oatly Group forecasted at least a 64% surge in its annual revenue, as the newly-public Swedish company benefits from rising demand for vegan milk alternatives at restaurants and coffee chains such as Starbucks Corp.
Quorn is the world’s third most searched-for vegan brand.
The global meat substitute, famously endorsed by Olympic stars Mo Farah and Adam Peaty in the past, pulls in 95,000 searches a month.
JUST Egg is also among the world’s favourite vegan brands.
The plant-based egg product - a favourite breakfast ingredient of singer Lizzo - rakes in 94,000 searches a month, making it the fourth most Googled vegan brand in the world.
Follow Your Heart, producers of plant-based mayonnaise Veganaise, and multiple vegan cheese products, saw the world’s fifth highest number of searches, at 32,000 a month.
A spokesperson for Maxima Kitchen Equipment said, “As vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets increase in popularity and become ever more mainstream, it is fascinating to see which vegan brands are the most searched in the world, as well as which brands dominate in each country. The popularity of brands like Beyond Meat and Quorn shows our interest in plant-based meat, while the prevalence of Oatly and Alpro reflect the increasing demand for dairy alternatives.”
Riding The Wave
Numerous brands in this category have ridden a wave of interest in plant-based food in recent years, led in huge part by millennials and Gen Z consumers, who are more than willing to spend on sustainable products that are also healthy.
FMCG brands were quick to realise the growing demand for plant-based alternatives to their meat brands, especially within this demographic.
Vegan influencer, 32 year old Shane Campbell aka Vegan Country Boy, is an excellent example of this new generation of foodies and influencers.
Speaking with Checkout, he tells us that he was once “a huge meat eater and a cheese lover” who laughed at the idea of veganism.
“However, I was obviously aware that I was eating animals for 20 odd years, but I always put it to the back of my mind, making excuses along the way,” he says.
Campbell started a vegan Instagram page five years ago and since then his page has grown significantly and Vegan Country Boy has amassed over 15,000 followers.
“I started my vegan Instagram page to track my food, so I could find it easier to pick my meals weekly, but it quickly moved into promoting veganism,” he says.
“My aim for my social media pages is to show people how easy a vegan lifestyle can be and maybe people can make the connection I made."
“In the last year, I have seen a massive increase in the number of people switching to a vegan lifestyle and turning more flexitarian although these two are not really related as veganism is not a diet," he adds.
"I am not sure if lockdown has made people more health conscious or we are becoming more environmentally aware, but whatever the reason, I welcome the reduction in animal consumption. I think the growth in dairy and meat-free alternatives has helped people reduce their meat consumption.”
So does he think that the FMCG sector and grocery retailers have successfully stepped up to the mark and responded to the growing demand in this category?
“I think food brands and grocery retailers have responded well to the increased demand for vegan and plant- based alternatives,” he says.
“The options in store have increased significantly in the last 18 months and continue to grow. For example, Denny’s, one of Ireland's biggest sellers of meat, have released meat-free sausages, bacon, pudding, and deli meats and continue to expand their meat-free range. Since I became vegan five years ago, I think the standard of plant-based alternatives available in grocery retailers is very good. Cooking has never been easier and you cut out the worry of food poisoning.”
But are the meat-free alternatives currently available on the market compromising on taste? “Absolutely not,” he says.
“There are plant- based brands producing top quality alternatives and it’s only going to continue to improve. However, I think it is important to state that veganism is not just about what you consume, it is a way of living that seeks to exclude as far as is possible and practicable all form of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Visibility Is Key
In order to encourage shoppers to buy more vegan and plant-based produce, visibility in store is key, and if grocery retailers are to meet the demand for products within this category, they should allocate dedicated plant-based or vegan fridge sections in store and place the items front and centre to showcase the shop’s diverse offerings to all customers.
With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if grocery shoppers will become plant-based or meat-free adherents in 2022, or if they will be putting such items in their baskets as a one-off purchase.