Vegans are bad for business

If you sell animal products, you'll need to adapt sooner rather than later to changing consumer demand.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 11 Jul 2019

For all of the exotic cuts on display there is one thing missing from John Maynard’s butchers shop - meat. In its place is an array of curious culinary constructions: steaks made of wheat, burgers mashed out of jackfruit and 'shroom dogs' instead of chorizo, among others.

It would be easy to brush off this completely meat-free butchers as simply another ploy to cater for the avant garde tastes of the Shoreditch back street, but the three-day trial has been organised  by supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, which is hoping to capitalise on changing consumer trends.

Waitrose’s annual food and drink report found that one in five UK adults say they are reducing the amount of meat they eat, and according to Mintel, retail sales of meat-free foods are predicted to rise to over £658m by 2021. 

Sainsbury’s is not the only company scrambling for a bite of this growing opportunity. 

Tesco’s Dave Lewis announced plans to increase the chain’s offering from 32 to 300 vegan based products, Gregg’s vegan sausage roll has had social media and cash registers ticking (the company reported a 14 per cent rise in sales for the first six weeks of the year) and earlier this year US plant-based food brand Beyond Meat had investors licking their lips with a bumper listing on NASDAQ.  

While this creates ample opportunity for some, it presents a growing challenge for those with bigger ‘steaks’ in the game, namely meat processors and agricultural firms, which have largely remained quiet as to how to respond - at least in public.

"At the moment it feels as though the industry is burying its head in the sand and hoping it will weather the storm," mulls Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, in Meat Management Magazine

For now the industry might have more pressing concerns - tariffs on beef and lamb exports to the EU could rise significantly in the event of a no-deal Brexit -  but one thing is certain - they will have to react. Quite how remains to be seen. 

Allen proposes a coordinated approach based around careful messaging that highlights Britain "as the go-to source" for welfare standards and sustainable meat; he also acknowledges the need for meat processors to accept some criticism. 

Whatever the outcome, they’ve got some time at least. Plant-based alternatives won’t completely replace meat products anytime soon, if ever. Exports of meat and meat preparations were worth £1.9bn in April 2019, with the EU being the most common destination. 

But this is no fad. Consumers are increasingly favouring brands and products built on purpose, ethics and sustainability - and eating less meat is in part driven by a growing awareness about climate change. 

If companies want to stay competitive, they can’t ignore that.


 

Image credit: Photo by Vegan Liftz from Pexels

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