Global research company Mintel found that Brits were following the ‘flexitarianism’ trend in its Meat-Free Foods 2017 report, which looked at consumption for the six months to March 2017 and involved 2,000 internet users aged 16 and over.
Also, one in seven (14%) of adults said they were interested in limiting or reducing their consumption of meat or poultry in the future.
Almost half (49%) of Brits who are interested in or are already limiting or reducing meat consumption agree that eating too much meat is bad for their health.
While, weight management (29%) is the second most popular reason for limiting or reducing meat consumption, concern over animal welfare (24%) and the environment (24%) are equal motivators.
Mintel research showed that meat reduction campaigns are proving effective with 39% of meat limiters or reducers saying that meat reduction campaigns (such as Meat-free Mondays, National Vegetarian Week, Veganuary) have made them more aware of the benefits around eating less meat.
Bloggers and vloggers are also having an impact, as 16% of Brits have said advice from online writers encourages them to reduce the amount of meat they eat, rising to 29% among those who have already reduced or limited their consumption of meat.
Mintel senior food analyst Emma Clifford highlighted the trend of ‘flexitarianism’ and how online platforms can persuade diners to eat less meat.
She said: “Despite the ingrained popularity of meat, a clear trend has emerged of people cutting back and limiting how much of these products they eat.
“That ‘flexitarianism’, a whole new dietary phrase, was coined to describe the movement also highlights its indisputably mainstream status.
“The flexitarian trend carves very accessible and unrestricted middle ground between meat-eaters and non-meat eaters, while acknowledging a conscious effort to eat less meat.
“On top of the various other benefits linked to reducing meat consumption, following a meat-free diet is likely to be aspirational to many consumers and social media is playing an important role in the attraction of this endeavour.”
Some 9% of Brits said they do not eat red meat or poultry, but the younger generations are the most likely to follow a meat-free lifestyle.
Almost one fifth (19%) of Brits under 25 said they do not eat red meat or poultry, rising to one quarter (25%) of women in this age group.
While animal welfare is the number one reason why non-meat eaters said they avoid meat (54%), for those under 25, environmental benefits is the leading factor.
This is the only age group that is more likely to avoid meat for environmental reasons (29%) rather than concerns over animal welfare (22%).
Persuasive selling point
Clifford said the ethical card of helping to maintain a green planet, is a powerful message for meat-free brands to use, particularly now the issue is attracting attention.
She added: “Flagging up that consumers are making a choice that is good for the environment and which can help to create a greener future in the long-term is likely to be a persuasive selling point.”
This new trend has been highlighted at a time when the meat-free foods market has shown growth, contrasting with a volume decline of 14% and a fall in value of 10% between 2012 and 2016.
Though volume sales increased in 2016 by 2% year on year, average prices saw value sales rise 4% to £559m.
This year, the market is set to reach £572m, with rising prices expected to increase value sales to £658m by 2021 - a rise of 18% over 2016.
Some 50% of UK adults have eaten meat-free foods in the past six months, with 38% having eaten vegetable-based products, 32% eating bean-based products and 26% nut-based products.
Clifford said: “A number of factors have been at play helping to reverse the fortunes of the meat-free category.
“Lifestyle trends are helping to broaden the appeal of these products, most notably many consumers are becoming more vigilant about the amount of meat in their diet.
“Increased innovation, with a big new product development push from brands in 2016, and growing mainstream availability of these products, has also underpinned this positive performance.”