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How many vegans are there in the UK?

Young woman with glasses smiling
5 min read
AUTHOR: Molly Long
vegans at a food truck

With a seemingly ever-expanding range of vegan products in supermarkets, and increasing awareness and acceptance elsewhere, modern vegan life is one of variety. Gone are the days of bland veggie sausages, ordering undressed side salads while eating out and drinking black coffee for lack of non-dairy milk.

With a markedly higher quality of life (and food) than decades past, it’s no wonder the vegan lifestyle is now attracting followers in droves. If it seems like practically everyone around you is consuming meat less frequently, it’s because they probably are.

When Ipsos Mori and The Vegan Society asked the question: how many people in the UK are vegan, they found the number has more than quadrupled in the last eight years, rising from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2019 – 1.21% percent of the population.

Statistics on how many vegans there were in the UK in 2020 and 2021 are available, though they are small in sample size. YouGov’s bi-annual survey of 2,000 people suggested 2% were vegan in 2020, and this rose to 3% in 2021.

So, how many vegans are there in total? Ipsos estimated 3% of the world’s population was vegan in 2018. When compared to how many vegans in the world there are, the UK makes up a sizeable chunk.

Veganism’s roots in the UK

The number of people that are vegan in the UK is at a stratospheric increase, considering the movement began as a mere handful of the vegetarian population who refused to eat dairy products and eggs. In 1944, these vegetarians petitioned the British Vegetarian Society to make some space on its newsletter for their lifestyle.

When the request was denied, Donald Watson coined the term vegan and created his own publication which followed the belief system that we’re so familiar with today. More than 70 years later, the United Kingdom is well in the centre of a second wave of the movement.

And it seems the movement is still at its strongest here. According to Google Trends, the UK is the most popular country in the world for vegans, followed by Germany and Austria.

The rise of vegan food

One of the biggest catalysts for the rise of meat free diet choices is of course the food itself. Food technology has come on leaps and bounds in the decades since the movement was established, and as a result vegan food catches the eye of more people than ever.

Because more people are open to considering plant-based diets, companies are more willing than ever to boost their R&D spending. In the UK alone, there were more than 770 new vegan products launched this January to coincide with the Veganuary campaign. This included offerings from high profile companies like McDonalds, Cadbury, Lindt and Starbucks.

Market research company Appinio revealed that a whopping 63.5% of Brits bought vegan food items in 2021. The same research also said 50.8% of Brits who eat meat are willing to replace at least some of their meat consumption with like-for-like plant-based meat substitutes.

In a similar vein, plant-based alternatives to milk have had roaring success among the population in recent years. Research by Ipsos this year found that 48% of British adults use plant milks of some kind in their diet, proving that the lifestyle is in no way incompatible with the Great British brew.

Because diners in the UK are increasingly partial to vegan alternatives and avoiding meat, the number of totally vegan meals has soared too. The amount of people in the UK eating vegan for lunch or dinner rose by 46% between 2019 and 2020.

Overall more and more people now swap some of their meals for vegetarian and vegan options.

The impact of the diet

Of course, the other driving force behind switching from a meat and dairy-based diet to a plant-based one is the animals. A YouGov survey reports that a desire to not eat animals is the number one reason why people make the switch. The impact that UK vegans have on animals by abstaining from animal-derived foods is substantial.

According to The Vegan Society’s own Veganalyser – which is based on data obtained by the FAO – the average vegan based in northern Europe can save the lives of at least 37 animals a year with their diet.

Knowing how many animals are saved can be a huge motivator to keep on track with your vegan diet. Using these metrics, the UK’s 600,000 known vegans save around 22,200,000 animals a year through their diet alone.

Trying plant-based on for size

Just because someone hasn’t taken the plunge of becoming fully vegan in life and diet, doesn’t mean their small choices can’t make a difference. And with the UK increasingly interested in making sustainable dietary changes, these impacts add up.

According to a survey from The Vegan Society, one in four Brits had reduced their consumption of animal products (either meat, dairy or both) during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK was also the country with the second-highest sign-ups to this year’s Veganuary campaign, which saw a record 629,000 people worldwide try out a vegan lifestyle for the month of January.

More than half of UK adults adopt vegan buying behaviours in the supermarket – for example by checking if their toiletries are cruelty free.

Moving forward

The vegan movement shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. One in five Brits say they would go vegan if the circumstances were right, according to data from The Vegan Society. With the lifestyle becoming more accessible every day, we can assume many more will begin making the change.

Some key indicators that even greater uptake is incoming include the National Food Strategy placing a focus on developing alternative proteins on home soil and that 69% of parents support more vegan meals in schools.

With British retail giant Sainsbury’s predicting vegetarians and vegans will make up a quarter of the population by 2025, it’s never been more appropriate to toast the success of the vegan movement – perhaps with a delicious vegan wine.

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