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Cornering the meat-free market

A new Mintel report examines the growth potential of the UK meat-free foods market.

Alyson Parkes is Research Analyst at Mintel

New research released during November’s World Vegan Month reveals a surge in vegan claims in the UK meat-free foods market. The Mintel Meat-Free UK 2018 Report headlines a doubling of meat-free new products carrying a vegan/no animal ingredients claim between 2014-17.

More than half (52%) of new product launches in the meat-free foods market were vegan/contain no animal ingredients in 2017, up from 28% in 2014, according to the analyst’s Global New Products Database.

The significant growth in the availability of vegan products in the meat-free foods market will appeal to the 26% of consumers who prefer meat-free products to be plant-based rather than containing eggs or dairy. Mintel’s latest research also highlights that the popularity of meat-free foods extends well beyond the small pool of non-meat eaters that describe themselves as vegan.

Mintel’s meat-free messages

CHILLED AND FROZEN - Chilled products continue to dominate in the meat-free foods market, accounting for 68% of value and 61% of volume sales in 2017. The growth enjoyed by the frozen meat-free segment in 2016 accelerated in 2017, with burgers and pastry-based products being the two biggest contributors to the rise in sales.

HEALTH CONCERNS - Health concerns around unprocessed and processed meat consumption have been heightened in recent years, putting the dangers of meat-heavy diets firmly on consumers’ radars. While there are a diverse range of reasons for eating less meat, health concerns are the most commonly cited driver. This has seen a third of red meat/poultry eaters reduce or limit their intake of meat.

HEALTHIER SNACKS?- A surprisingly high 32% of meat-free food eaters have eaten them as a snack, rising to 41% of 16-24s which aligns with their more frequent snacking habits. That snacks only account for a small proportion of value sales in the market in 2017 demonstrates their fairly limited presence in the meat-free market, indicating opportunities for snack products.

THE PROTEIN MESSAGE - More than half of consumers (59%) agree that it is important that meat-free foods are high in protein, indicating the need to align with the high-protein trend. The share of new product launches in the category carrying this claim nearly doubled year on year in 2016 and has remained high since. Brands need to do more to reassure consumers of their high protein credentials.

“Although the meat-free market is not vegan by definition, there has been a significant increase in the number of new products that carry a vegan claim,” says Alyson Parkes. “The buzz surrounding Veganuary gained momentum in January 2018, with a raft of vegan products launching to capitalise on the month-long meat-free movement.

“The appeal of meat-free products also extends far beyond the still very limited pool of vegan consumers. The rising profile of meat-free products and plant-based diets has been helped by activity in the foodservice arena and a significant advertising push in 2018, which has increased the visibility and awareness of these products among consumers, as well as injecting excitement into the category.”

As many as 56% of UK adults have eaten vegetarian/meat-free foods in the six months to July 2018, a significant increase from the 50% who had eaten these foods in the six months to March 2017. Estimated to reach £740m in 2018, sales of meat-free foods (including a growing range of vegan products) have shot up 22% between 2013 and 2018. Growth is set to continue as value sales of the meat-free market are forecast to increase by a further 44% by 2023 to reach £1.1bn.

Who and why?

While 90% of Brits are red meat/poultry eaters, the Mintel research highlights consumer interest in reducing meat consumption remains strong, as 34% of meat eaters reduced their meat consumption in 2018. Younger Brits aged 25-34 are the most likely (40%) to have reduced meat consumption in the last year. A further 21% of meat eaters say that they would be interested in limiting or reducing their meat consumption in the future, highlighting the growing appeal of meat reduction and the opportunity for meat-free foods.

The top three perceived benefits of eating less meat are improving health (32%), saving money (31%) and being better for the environment (25%). Despite improving health being seen as the top benefit, considerably fewer consumers associate eating less meat with helping to manage weight (25%) or reducing the risk of disease (22%).

“The UK’s overarching health trend has underpinned meat reduction behaviours, with consumers increasingly looking for better-for-you food and drink products,” Alyson adds. “However, the benefits associated with eating less meat extend far beyond health, also encompassing animal ethics and the environment. The multi-dimensional appeal of the meat-free trend bodes well for its longevity.”

Does it pretend to be meat?

Plant-based food that tastes or looks like meat remains an enticing factor for those toying with this change in diet. The research confirms that there is some confusion and concern surrounding meat-free foods, with 44% of Brits unclear about what ingredients are used in these foods. With 41% of consumers agreeing that meat-free foods with a shorter list of ingredients are more appealing, and a further 31% believing that meat-free foods are too processed to be healthier than meat, transparency is key in order to reassure consumers and build trust.

“Several companies have recently launched revolutionary plant-based burgers that mimic the same ‘bleeding’ quality as animal-based meat burgers when cooked,” Alyson observes. “This meat-replicating feature certainly makes the concept of meat-free foods more newsworthy and intriguing for consumers which, combined with health credentials, ethical claims and environmental considerations, creates a compelling proposition. This visual aspect also makes these products highly ‘Instagrammable’, and can help catch the eye of experimental foodies, as well as a wider audience.”

The growth in value sales seen since 2016 is expected to continue over the next five years, with the ‘flexitarian’ trend lending longevity to the market. Inflation is expected to help prop up value sales.

With a clear trend towards younger age groups eating less red meat/poultry, the fact that parents of under-18s are core eaters of meat-free foods suggests that children are being introduced to these products from an early age, which suggests a positive outlook for volume sales in the market.

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