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Plant-based food sales increase, but meat purchases still growing steadily, research shows

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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The average weekly sales of plant-based foods increased by nearly 60% in the 2021 Veganuary period in the UK, but there was no reduction in meat sales, according to new research from the University of Surrey.

The study, published in Public Health Nutrition, monitored the weekly sales of plant-based and meat products throughout January 2021 in comparison to three other time periods: 4 to 31 January 2020, 31 October to 27 November 2020, and 1 February to 28 March 2021.

According to the report, the increase in sales of plant-based products were seen the most in superstores, where 58% more products were sold, and in low-income areas, where 64% more plant-based goods were bought.

The higher level of sales is a result of “increasing visibility, accessibility, affordability and availability of plant-based products”, the researchers note.

Of the 101 plant-based goods selected for promotion by retailers during Veganuary 2021, four were new products. Stores also aimed to increase accessibility to these goods within their premises by placing them in ‘prime high-footfall’ areas, such as the end of the aisle or at eye level.

Other stores introduced plant-based swaps on aisle ends for goods that featured in the top 10 meals commonly cooked by families. One example included encouraging the purchase of lentils instead of beef mince for making a Bolognese sauce.

During the Veganuary period many retailers also introduced a price parity threshold to ensure own-brand plant-based products were cheaper than meat options. Loyalty card promotions were also introduced during this time resulting in price cuts of 30p to £1.50 on branded goods.

The sales of plant-based products decreased after Veganuary the study says, but still remained 15% higher than before January 2021.  

Support for the annual challenge to go vegan for a month has increased year on year. In 2022 more than 600,000 people took part – the largest number of participants ever.

Joanna Trewern, lead author of the study and Doctoral Practitioner in Sustainability at the University of Surrey, said: “Our study suggests that while retail-led campaigns are driving increased sales of plant-based, we are not yet seeing meat replacement at scale, which is key to drive progress toward healthy, sustainable diets.

Despite the increase in sales of plant-based products, meat sales were not negatively impacted according to the study, as they increased by 6% during the Veganuary period in superstores, and remained 2% higher afterwards.

The unaffected meat sales figures show that “more is needed to reduce our reliance on meat and dairy”, says Trewern.

Trewern continued: “For there to be any chance of meeting UK climate change targets, Government, food companies, civil society, scientists, and health professionals need to work together urgently to implement action plans and policies that can deliver swift and sustained change.”


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