Vegetarianism and Veganism are tipped to become the biggest food trends of 2018, but how did these previously niche food choices rise so far and so fast? They’re going to spice up the food industry, but is this a faze, or just the beginning?
What’s happened so far?
As of 2017, around 6% of UK consumers were fulltime vegetarian and 1% permanent vegan, which is admittedly a small group relative to the total. However, this number represents around a 360% increase since 2006, according to the Vegan Society. Tesco’s demand for veggie and vegan ready meals and snacks have increased by almost half in a year, and the number of new vegan food products launched in the UK last year rose dramatically. In terms of demographics, almost half of the vegans in the UK are aged between 15 and 35. The growth of veggie and veganism seems fuelled by two types of people. Over the last 10-15 years there has been a steady increase in fulltime veggie and vegans. This is slow, dependable growth. On top of this, over the last five years there has been an explosion in part-timers, dabbling with veggie, vegan and flexi diets. This growth has been fast, and is less stable as people can take up and drop this food choice easily and quickly. It is this short-term flexi-dieting, for example those doing Veganuary, which during this year more than ever has seen a dramatic increase in participants across the world. While some do end up making the transition to fulltime veggies or vegans as a result, most revert back to eating meat after a period of time, although many actually reduce their day-to-day meat consumption afterwards. So, to the question ‘Do few buy a lot, or a lot buy a few?’ the answer is both, and each category has been growing in different ways.
Fashionable healthy eating fads and trends are thought to be the biggest cause of vegetarianism and veganism’s rise so far. Celebrity endorsement from the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z, Serena Williams and Leonardo Di Caprio have put veggie and vegan diets on the map, and given these trends huge airtime, particularly via social media. While we’re on the subject, the likes of facebook, Instagram and of-course Twitter have been hugely significant in facilitating and promoting the rise of the herbivore trends. Long has it been edgy to be veggie, but social media has brought together a dispersed community to share recipes, stories and offer support to new comers (admittedly at times in a horrendously virtuous manner), opening up the trend to your average Archie. Furthermore social media’s ‘Pursuit of the Perfect Picture’ has prompted many more into dieting and ‘healthy’ eating, boosting veggie and vegan diets significantly in recent years, especially among flexis. Actual medical findings on the negative health impacts of meat and increased consumer knowledge on health matters have also caused consumers to eat less meat. Animal welfare has been central to both the veggie and vegan mantra in the past, and this has increased with high profile media campaigns and more transparency about the living conditions animals suffer under intensive farming. Environmental concerns have begun to creep into consumers’ consciousness when grocery shopping and eating, but the impact on food choices does not yet seem weighty. These trends have been seen across Europe, and also in the US, suggesting there has been a significant change in the relationship between meat and consumers across the world.
What does the future hold?
On the supply side, veggie and vegan products will likely be the thing to look out for of 2018 (along with low plastic products- article coming soon). Producers have picked up on this fast growing trend, and more and more veggie/vegan products will be hitting the shelves at your local Aldi and Waitrose alike. Often producers’ New Product Development has at least a couple of months delay from conception until it hits the shelves, and many will have been targeting this January for months to launch their new meat-free innovations based on data from 2016-17. Loads of small specialist producers released such products last year, but some of the more noticeable introductions have come from the big boys, such as Pret a Manger and Guinness. Pret recently launched Veggie Pret, nurturing and developing their entirely vegetarian concept into three storefronts in London – considering there’s at least one Pret on every street in the capital, I’m sure they’ve got veggie-related plans in store… Would you believe, everyone’s favourite Irish stout has also now declared itself to be vegan? Guinness gracious me. Expect more of the same from small, medium and large food producers are trying to cash in on high levels of current demand.
In terms of demand, this trend looks set to explode in 2018 as it continues to ride the social media wave. But even if this heightened popularity is only temporary, veggetarianism and veganism look like they're here to stay. There is nothing to suggest the steadily growing number of full time veggie/vegans will be disrupted or put off, implying this trend has the depth of consumers rooted to vegetables to continue for the foreseeable future. On top of this, there are signs to suggest both full time and dabbler veggie and vegan diets will surge in popularity. In the short term, Brexit (oh here we go…) could see the quality of some meats deteriorate, and the price of others rise, both boosting demand for veggie and vegan products. In the medium term, health experts are increasingly calling on consumers to moderate their meat consumption, although health messages take a long time to significantly impact eating habits. Finally in the long run, the environmental impact of meat will become increasingly more important to both consumers’ choices, and governments’ priorities and policies concerning meat.
2018 will be veggie and veganism’s biggest and most high profile year yet. But it feels like it could also just be the beginning, as our relationship towards meat has reached a critical turning point.
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Archie Sale & Bea Hughes-Morgan