Last weekend I decided to do my grocery shopping in store rather than online and noticed something different about the fresh and frozen aisles. As a committed vegetarian I was pleasantly surprised at the “meat free” range. Big brands within the sector such as Quorn have expanded their range; new brands such as Amy’s Kitchen have gained a presence (and shelf space!) and even own-label ranges appear to be in on the innovation!
Although I’m not complaining, this has got me thinking- why now?
I think a combination of factors, all pulling together at the same time are behind the change:
1. There is no doubt that one factor is the aftermath of the “HORSEMEAT SCANDAL” (discussed in our previous blog/infographic at the time). A rise in carnivorous distrust towards meat products has made many consider the alternatives (1 in 5 consumers considered giving up meat at the time according to our research (February 2013), so it is likely more will have reduced their consumption); particularly in the frozen aisles where much of the press coverage was focused.
2. Linked to the first factor is the issue of PRICE; with cheap (typically non-British) meat off the menu for families following the horsemeat scandal, paying for better quality meat adds costs to the grocery shop which many families can ill-afford.
3. Another factor may be HEALTH CONSCIOUSNESS, as meat free ranges are often promoted as a healthy alternative to meat. Unlike environment impact, it appears issues that affect consumers directly and immediately (their health) have a greater impact on lifestyle choices.
4. The growing profile of National Vegetarian Week and Meat Free Mondays raising awareness of MEAT FREE MEAL CHOICES(not necessarily a strict vegetarian diet); supported by celebrities and big chains – for example Giraffe offered 2 for 1 vegetarian meals during National Vegetarian Week.
All of these factors may explain the rise in meat-free products, despite no rise in the number of self-declared vegetarians. A national survey conducted by the Food Standards Agency last year identified that 2% of adults and children reported being vegetarian (FSA National Diet and Nutrition Survey, 2012); this figure matches those reported by the FSA five years previous in 2007 (Consumer Attitudes to Food Standards Survey, 2007).
Is this an indication of a shift in attitudes among consumers in the UK: will semi-vegetarians become a consumer group for the meat free industry to consider?
The industry may be one step ahead of me! Retailers have moved towards selling ‘meat free’ rather than ‘vegetarian’ products. Meat free doesn’t send off messages that the products are only for those who follow a vegetarian diet, thus making the products ‘acceptable’ to those who are just reducing their meat consumption.
As discussed in The Grocer (“To be or not to be veggie”, 18th May 2013), meat free brands may not wish to be placed in the ‘designated vegetarian’ sections of supermarket aisles, and instead be placed near mainstream meat products. Again, this is a way of appealing to meat reducers as vegetarian specialist dietary areas of supermarkets only attract those who see it relevant (similar to the gluten-free section).
What should the meat free industry do to maximise a rise in interest for meat free products?
This is an important time for the meat free industry, and with many factors in their favour it is their opportunity to shine. With a static number of vegetarians, their focus should be on meat reducers, so I think the decision to label products as meat free or meat alternatives rather than vegetarian is a wise move to avoid alienation. These products need to be made a part of everyday lifestyles, and a staple of the average grocery shop. Maintaining a good level of NPD will of course encourage more consumers to trial the category and at the same time strengthen engagement from vegetarian consumers.
But importantly (although I may be biased!), they should remember the roots of this industry, the loyal vegetarian consumers, and ensure that products still meet their needs – for all 1.2 million of them! (FSA National Diet and Nutrition Survey, 2012)
Would you consider yourself a ‘semi-vegetarian’? If you’re a meat eater, do you think you’d ever buy from the meat free range?
For more information please see:
Food Standards Agency: http://www.food.gov.uk/
The Vegetarian Society: https://www.vegsoc.org/