March 11, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a temporary setback for the flexitarian movement, with the proportion of adults limiting and not eating meat dropping back significantly in 2020, according to new research from Mintel. 

However, as the food and drink industry recovers from the pandemic, Mintel expects that momentum will return to the plant-based industry.

Mintel revealed that the number of Brits actively limiting/reducing and not eating meat in their diet has reduced from half (51%) of all consumers in 2019 down to four in 10 (41%) during 2020. Meanwhile, in search of familiar foods, sales of processed meat products, including processed poultry and red meat main meal components, grew by 18% during 2020 and are estimated to be worth €4.3 billion.

Breakfast and barbecue favourites, bacon (+18%), sausages (+20%) and burgers (+26%), all benefited from the rise in scratch cooking and shift towards eating at home.

Increased rates of homeworking have been driving a rise in at-home lunches which helped push the sales of cooked sliced meat/poultry, such as ham, which rose 9% in 2020.  Having been in decline for a number of years, stockpiling of canned meat led to a resurgence in sales – up 22%in 2020. This comes as 58% of meat/poultry eaters say that meals that contain processed meat products are comforting.

Edward Bergen, Mintel’s Global Food & Drink Analyst, said: “Prior to the coronavirus outbreak the meat reduction trend was gaining considerable momentum. The huge disruption, uncertainty and stress caused by COVID-19 have caused a relaxation around some health and ethics-driven habits among many people.

“It is not surprising that meat reduction has taken a temporary back seat, particularly given the increased desirability of familiar comfort food and meat is seen to really deliver here.”

Half of Brits eat meat substitutes
Eaten by as many as half (50%) of all Brits, meat substitutes enjoy a widespread appeal beyond the limited number of vegetarians/vegans. However, usage is strongly skewed towards the younger generation, peaking at 65% of 16-24s and is limited among over-65s (26%).

Mr Bergen said: “While the meat reduction trend continued to gather momentum in 2019, the category’s increasingly mainstream role means that the health halo around meat substitutes and their price are set to come under greater scrutiny.

“Although lapsing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the meat reduction movement is expected to rebound, driven by its perceived benefits related to health, weight management, sustainability and money-saving. However, meat substitutes must really deliver on these factors to reap the rewards from this trend.”

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