Will Broome takes a look at how dietary trends are changing in the UK, with research indicating a rise in popularity of both vegetarian and vegan options

Losing weight, eating healthier, or changing diet plans to cut out snacking on bad foods can be a long and difficult process. However, apps like Noom, Weight Watchers and MyFitnessPal allow you to add in all your food and drink to help you track calories and carbohydrate intake. But when you’re in the supermarket you may not get all the information you need off of the green wheel on the front of the packaging. This applies to a variety of variables including whether it is vegetarian or vegan-friendly or whether it contains nuts or gluten. While every piece of packaging has to display this information by law, it is not always the easiest to read while you’re in a busy supermarket. So how could technology help customers make better, more informed choices?

As it was National Vegetarian Week 2019 a few weeks ago [at time of writing], retailers across the nation are renewing their efforts to make shopping more inclusive of alternative diets, including switching to healthier diet plans. According to new research, Brits ate 150 million more meat-free meals in 2018 than the year before. Ubamarket, the supermarket shopping app championing ‘scan, pay, go’ technology, has commissioned nationally representative research across 2005 UK adults exploring the way dietary trends are taking the retail industry by storm.

These products are no longer specialist foods:

  • Quorn
  • Linda McCartney
  • Alpro
  • No Bull burgers
  • Nush Dairy-free yoghurt
  • Wicked Kitchen
  • BOL Foods

What was once a small segment to cater for, is now the critical mass of 2019. Supermarkets have had to jump to consumer demand by incorporating an increasing number of vegan and vegetarian selections as part of their offering. This is becoming more and more prevalent in society as shoppers increasingly make these choices a staple part of their weekly diets. For instance, Sainsbury’s is the first supermarket to introduce vegan ribs as part of their offering. The veggie ‘Ribz’ by Plant Power launched online and were available in 450 Sainsbury’s stores on 15th May. In addition, IKEA has announced that it will be launching vegan meatballs into its offering with the ambition to make healthy and sustainable food accessible. The Swedish brand promises that the vegan meatballs will ‘look and taste like meat.’

Ubamarket research has revealed that Brits spend £25 per week on vegetarian and vegan products, totalling £1.3 billion a year. Over a third – 36 per cent – of meat-eaters, representing 18.97 million Brits, are buying vegetarian and vegan specialist products. A further 31 per cent of Brits – 16.08 million – are eating more vegetarian and vegan meals than ever before and 32 per cent of Brits – 16.72 million – are consciously trying to eat less meat, for reasons ranging from their health to the environmental impact of the agriculture industry. This demonstrates a clear trend towards consumers moving towards meat-free alternatives despite not being a vegetarian or vegan. A quarter of shoppers, or 12.77 million Brits, say supermarket layouts make shopping for meat-free products difficult and 26 per cent of Brits said that trends like Veganuary and Sugar Awareness Week are shaping their shopping habit, so how can retailers help consumers choose these items more easily?

Waitrose launched a new vegan range featuring 14 new products earlier this year and the supermarket has seen a 110 per cent increase in sales of the fish-less fingers in the space of one week once 7they hit the shelves. British consumption habits of meat are changing.

The flexitarian diet is on the rise in 2019, with millions more adopting eating habits that reduce the amount of meat, dairy and eggs they eat due to the following influences. The current market for meat-free products is expected to be valued at £658m by 2021, up from £572m from 2017. However, research from Ubamarket has revealed that consumers value their own spend on specialist vegan and vegetarian products at more than £25 a week, amounting to a yearly national spend of £1.3 billion.

There are health issues related to the consumption of meat. A diet high in red meat has been proven to increase the levels of TMAO, a compound known to be linked to heart disease and strokes. People also consider the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry. These industries require a significantly larger proportion of water and land compared with that needed to produce fruits and vegetables, contributing to deforestation and causing 24 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Many also consider the ethical ramifications of eating meat. While many people argue that eating meat is essential for a healthy diet, consumers are increasingly considering the morality of the meat industry in its current form. A quarter of a million Brits took part in Veganuary this year, up from just 3300 at its launch in 2014.

Supermarkets are becoming more and more aware of the increase in flexitarianism, welcoming a meat-free diet into the mainstream by incorporating products into the general layout of a store rather than relegating them to a few shelves in the corner. Our research has consistently shown that shoppers find it difficult to locate speciality items in-store, leading to frustration and confusion. The importance of having systems in place that grant freedom for shoppers to make their own dietary decisions has never been more apparent. With easier ways to identify important allergens and ingredients on labels, more convenient store layouts and a smoother shopping format, consumers will be able to subscribe to alternative diets with ease.

Will Broome is CEO and Founder of Ubamarket. Ubamarket provides retailers with their own white label ‘scan and go’ in-store app. It is a high-tech, low cost solution that’s simple to implement and revolutionises the shopping experience.