The appeal of vegetarianism grows as awareness and production processes evolve
The idea of not eating meat is becoming more mainstream – and restaurants will take this into account.
A 2022 survey by Blue Horizon and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) anticipates a +100% potential rise in exclusive or near-exclusive users of alternative proteins if producers can overcome barriers to their uptake, namely those relating to health and nutrition, taste and safety.
Although consumers may doubt embracing a vegetarian diet due to these inhibitors, the congruence of increased awareness due to campaigns and the Covid-19 pandemic is heightening consumers’ interest in a plant-based diet. For example, 76% of participants in the Blue Horizon and BCG Survey said they were familiar with alternative proteins, and 50% of experienced users have increased their consumption during the pandemic, mainly due to a more pronounced focus on health.
Global consciousness is growing
Rising awareness of environmental concerns, animal welfare rights and health are fuelling the growing number of consumers choosing to remove meat and fish from their diets. Alternative proteins demonstrate their potential to have a positive impact on the climate. Manufacturers are also increasingly developing the sensorial profiles of alternative food groups to improve their taste, texture and flavour to entice consumers to choose a vegetarian diet.
Innovations and investments are high on the agenda in the meat and fish-free manufacturing sphere. Technologies are rapidly developing to find replacements for meat and fish while mimicking their functional and nutritional properties to appeal to a broader audience of consumers considering vegetarianism.
Value for money is also at the forefront of consumers’ decision-making when choosing between vegetarian or meat and fish-based products. As the cost of plant-based foods decreases, we expect more consumers to add affordability to the list of reasons they opt for a vegetarian diet.
The rise of vegetarianism?
Around the world, younger adults between 18-24 years old are less likely to eat meat, findings from Our World in Data reveal. British charity, The Vegetarian Society, states that currently, the number of people in the UK who maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet 100% of the time still holds at 3% of the population.
“Although some recent surveys may suggest otherwise, in our experience, statistics that reflect much higher numbers of vegetarians have not clearly defined ‘vegetarian’ as part of the study, or the results include people who are vegetarian ‘some of the time’ or who eat fish or chicken,” says Richard McIlwain, Chief Executive of The Vegetarian Society.
Trends driving vegetarianism
One of the drivers is the climate, as is our treatment of animals, especially as we have more and more meat-free protein sources available.
Increasingly, consumers are taking action by choosing a vegetarian diet to reduce environmental impact. “Switching to balanced vegetarian and vegan diets is something that everyone can do as a means of lowering their carbon footprint,” says McIlwain. “Young people are now growing up surrounded by an ever-increasing range of healthy, sustainable and tasty plant-based foods; the idea of not eating meat is becoming more mainstream,” McIlwain adds.
Global food systems account for up to 42% of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, McIlwain states. As a result, consumers ask themselves, “why not seek a move away from meat and animal farming entirely?”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 report draws attention to emerging food technologies such as cellular fermentation, cultured meat and plant-based alternatives to animal-based food, detailing that they can substantially reduce direct GHG emissions from food production.
Highlighting that the globe could be on the cusp of a new food system, McIlwain says we need to “push the GHG emissions associated with our food system to the top of policymakers’ agendas and imagine a world where food is not just nutritious but available to all and sustainably produced”. Ultimately, a global system that seeks to consign farming animals to history.
Promoting vegetarianism as sought after and simple
“There is a strong argument for including good quality vegetarian options alongside vegan ones,” says McIlwain. Vegetarian and vegan diets are admired by many for having a significantly lower environmental impact than meat. As vegetarian options are often more familiar to meat-eaters, they can be more appealing. “This can make it easier for those wanting to reduce their impact on the planet or the amount of meat they eat, and the more people who do this, the bigger the impact it has,” details McIlwain.
Consumers are demanding familiar products so they can switch. One example is the McPlant burger from Mcdonald’s, which uses a Beyond Meat Burger. Consumers are looking in their supermarkets for simple switches.
Around 90% of people across the UK are still eating meat. “It’s so culturally ingrained that it can be difficult for people considering a vegetarian or vegan diet to know where to start,” says McIlwain.
Small steps can be a solution, and today consumers are able to access lots of information and support online. “Start by swapping one meal, or a couple of meals a week, making sure you swap meat for other ingredients which provide important nutrients such as protein and iron,” adds McIlwain. The Vegetarian Society's Chief Executive recommends adding beans, pulses, tofu or experimenting with the growing range of meat substitutes like soya mince, or plant-based burgers, steaks and sausages, as well as adding at least two vegetables for a well-balanced meal. “If we all undertook these simple steps, we could make a big difference to our health, animal welfare, and the planet,” shares McIlwain.
From vegetarianism to veganism?
“Many people use vegetarianism as a stepping stone or an introduction to veganism,” says Cat Thompson, Media and PR Office, Vegan Society. “It is obvious that animals have to die in order for people to eat meat, but it is harder to make this connection with animals in the dairy and egg industries because we tend not to notice how wrong it is to use animals this way,” adds Thompson.
“However, the dairy and egg industries directly support the meat industry because cows and hens go to slaughter once they stop producing an adequate amount of milk or eggs,” shares Thompson. “New-born cows and chickens also suffer within these industries if they are born male—often being killed the day they are born as they can’t produce eggs or milk like their mothers,” Thompson continues.
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