Trend suggests passing-phase, or fad, but it looks like veganism, and it’s more flexible and current cousin ‘plant-based foods’ are here to stay. Veganuary 2021 has chronicled a record-number of sign-ups of over 500,000 participants, Waterstones stock over 10,000 book titles with the word ‘vegan’ in them (as of November 2020), and for the first time, health became the primary driver for people reconsidering their diets after the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of looking after ourselves. The long and the short of all of this is, the word trend seems defunct in relation to plant-based foods, this is a complete shift in how consumers think, feel and buy.
With our long history in the food industry, we’re passionate about all things food innovation – demonstrated by our ever-evolving product lines across our businesses – and so this is all very interesting to us. We’ve trawled through all the information about the hottest vegan and plant-based insights for 2021 and how your brand can participate – whether you’re a food brand or not. Even if you’re not dishing out foodie products, you’ll be a consumer of them and there are takeaways here about the importance of tuning into the consumer consciousness, paying attention and giving the people what they want!
This is something we can all get behind, irrespective of what wares we are peddling. There’s a thread to health in almost everything we do – too much of something, too little of something, self-care and protecting our mental health and an increasing shared consciousness about the need to look after ourselves better. As we mentioned above, 2021’s Veganuary participants are more focused than ever on the health benefits than other drivers such as animal welfare and the environment, with a Mintel study finding that 49% of those interested in cutting down on their meat consumption said they would do so for health reasons.
Plant-based diets, or some element thereof, are becoming the welcome stepping stone to the kinds of lifestyle changes lots of people want to make, but might avoid fully committing to for fear of judgement if they fancy a little of something or seek a little more flexibility (ask those consumers who say the biggest reason they can’t commit to veganism is cheese or chocolate withdrawal). There’s an element of guilt or pressure associated with one label or another but most consumers want to feel the health benefits of some changes. Plant-based has a gentler, more flexible vibe than full out veganism (while it can often mean exactly the same thing) and brands are echoing this with greater choice of healthier meals that meet this interest. It is easy to become a ‘junk-food’ vegan and eat the (very-tasty) chicken nugget alternatives, epic vegan doner kebabs, or a super tasty burger, but demand is growing for ‘clean plant-based foods’ which have the great taste without any nasty, over-processed ingredients.
In a pre-Covid world, we saw a demand for fast, convenient plant-based food such as rainbow salads, wraps, soups and more. The pandemic brought with it a whole host of societal issues including sparse supermarket shelves due to stockpiling, long queues and social distancing measures. With many reluctant or unable to tackle the weekly shop, and the majority of the country working from home where possible, we saw a surge in home delivery meal kits from the likes of Gousto, Mindful Chef and Hello Fresh. With extensive ranges of vegan, vegetarian and plan-based options available, they’re bringing exciting, new flavours and healthy dishes into the homes of millions via pre-measured ingredients and easy to follow recipe cards.
Although many took to their kitchens to cook up new and exciting dishes in lockdown, the rollercoaster of uncertainty and boredom, combined with government restrictions on eating out, also saw a surge in the popularity of home delivery services from restaurants and takeaways. Demand soared for professionally prepared ready-to-eat meals that are ordered online and delivered directly to the door, allowing consumers to tuck into a multitude of tasty, effortless meals, all from the comfort and safety of their homes.
The hospitality industry had to adapt quickly in an effort to secure an income with their doors still closed to the public, leading to a mass expansion of the range of restaurants, coffee shops, sandwich shops, dessert cafes and takeaways available to order from. For third party food delivery services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, business boomed throughout lockdown, as their apps connect consumers to a whole host of local eateries with the convenience and safety of contactless payment and delivery.
Since March, the public have been ordering more and more food, with Brits spending 10% more on takeaways than in pre-pandemic times. But what types of food have been most popular?
Research by City Pantry found that plant-based takeaway orders rose by almost a third (29%) across the nation last year, while alcohol product sales were up by 36%. Wales saw a 151% increase in searches for sweet treat deliveries, whereas Northern Ireland were craving brunch options, with searches up a staggering 182%! Restaurants and fast food chains have had to rapidly adapt their offerings to cater to the growing demand for vegan and vegetarian options. From the return of the vegan KFC burger and rumoured McPlant range soon to come from McDonalds, to the Plant Patty from sandwich giant Subway, we can expect to see more and more vegan-friendly options on the menus of key fast food players, but they’re not the only ones evolving.
Restaurants like Zizzi’s, Turtle Bay and JD Wetherspoons are all making moves to increase their vegan offering, with Italian based brands leading the way. As of January 2020, we found Frankie and Benny’s boasted 28 vegan listings, with Pizza Express close behind offering 20 vegan dishes across their starters, mains, sides and desserts. Burgers are another popular vegan option, with Turtle Bay offering No Moo and Mother Clucker burgers by Beyond Meat, and TGI Fridays adding a ‘bleeding’ Beyond Meat burger to their menu listings.
If you’ve embarked on a vegan/plant-based or flexitarian lifestyle, it probably won’t have escaped your attention that pricing is a bone of contention. Is it expensive to eat a plant-based diet? In reality, no! Beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables can be very cost-effective, but consumers lacking culinary courage (or time) may wish to take advantage of meat replacement products rather than make their own beet burgers for example – that’s where the cost comes in. Suppliers and manufacturers rightly want a share in this market and now more than ever, they’re creating all manner of tasty alternatives, but as with a lot of food designed with convenience in mind, there can be a premium. Consumers are seeking quick and cheap offerings that help them balance health and their finances and it’s the challenge facing brands and manufacturers to meet this while still turning a profit, but as demand has grown, prices seem to have levelled out in comparison to previous years.
With the new decade having seen a mass adoption of vegan / vegetarian / flexitarian diets, almost all of the big supermarket retailers are now offering more affordable products – connecting customers on all budgets to vegan ranges. As demand for plant-based foods continues to grow, and investment in product development delivers new vegan-friendly options, we’re set to see even more purse-friendly products on the shelves – The Independent notes big brands such as Unilever, Magnum, and Ben and Jerry’s have all trademarked vegan products in the last year!
This is a biggie. We know we led with health as a major driver for plant-based buying in 2020, but there’s a lot of plant-based fans out there who want to do their bit for their health and the planet, and still want a treat from time to time. Snacks, healthy or otherwise, are a huge business, but there’s a lot of milk and eggs hidden away in run of the mill choices, so the challenge is, can the market deliver some really great plant-based alternatives? Popcorn is still huge right now, with Proper Snacks – previously Propercorn who expanded into a broader healthy snack range to include lentil crisps – reporting it’s strongest year to date despite the challenges COVID-19 brought to the economy.
What else are consumers really clamouring after? Well, the quest is one for the best dairy alternatives, milk being a huge player at the moment, with almost 25 percent of us choosing plant-based milk – but chocolate is something that seems to feel like a right these days, not a treat! Although dark chocolate is often made without milk and so is often a go-to for vegans, there is a demand for the big brands to make a vegan equivalent of their most popular products. With Mars hopping into the mainstream with a range of flavoured, vegan Galaxy bars, and Dairy milk launching a vegan version of their ‘holy grail’ product, other household names will soon follow suit.
We all want pudding, it seems and so desserts and cookies are also must-haves.
This might be the most interesting of all the up and comers in the plant-based/flexitarian family – blended foods, meaning meat products but with less meat and more plant/veggie elements. We know, it’s a funny one and certainly not for those seeking a complete change to plant-based, but it opens up the conversation about how we can all play our part in reducing meat intake and fits nicely with the flexible approach we’ve been talking about. It’s ideal for those seeking to reduce meat consumption for health reasons, increase vegetable intake and works well, for those seeking to sneak veggies into kids’ diets (much less fighting if the veg is hidden in a chicken burger to begin with)! There are lots of carnivores seeking to take some baby steps into eating more veggies and these new, fandangled products are offering a gentle introduction. This is a great ‘in’ for other brands whose products may have a lot of meat or dairy ingredients – reductions here can be an opportunity to join the conversation and get involved.
“Vegan and plant-based foods have certainly gained more share of menu over the last few years and it’s a theme that isn’t going away any time soon. Consumers want the option of choice and convenience – whether they eat a vegan, flexitarian or plant-based diet, some of or all the time – so access to vegan versions of classic comfort foods is just as important as the healthier, more balanced options. This demand has led to the rise of indulgent desserts like the Pizza Hut’s “I Can’t Believe it’s not cheesecake” and success stories such as the Greggs Vegan Sausage roll and steak bake!”
– Nicola Mills, Marketing Director Billington Foodservice
It’s pretty obvious at this point, that this is not a trend, it’s a long-term shift, something we’re all going to have to consider as manufacturers, marketeers and consumers. For foodie brands, there are some pretty clear messages here: innovate, think about snacks, consider how we keep it healthy and fun and don’t turn a blind eye to the importance of treats – if you can manage all that while giving consumers a sense of value too, then you’re on to a winner! If you need some help with sourcing vegan, plant-based or vegetarian products for your customers, then you can always speak to us about that!