Nearly half of young people in Britain avoid eating meat with 20% following a flexitarian diet

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
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Almost 20% of young people in Britain do not eat meat, and a further 20% only do so ‘occasionally’ as part of a flexitarian diet, according to data gathered by YouGov.

Statistics gathered up to December 2021 showed that 5% of 18-to-24-year-olds identified as vegan or plant-based; 10% were vegetarian; and 4% were pescatarian.

The diet which has seen the sharpest uptake in recent years however is the ‘flexitarian’ diet. This eating regime is characterised by followers mainly eating vegetarian food, and only occasionally eating meat or fish.

Many followers of this diet do so because of its impact on the environment. Research published in Nature suggested moving to a majority plant-based flexitarian diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52%.

According to YouGov data, one in five 18-to-24-year-olds follow such a diet – this is double the number reported in 2019.

The fact young people are more likely to eschew traditional meat eating habits in favour of flexitarian diets chimes with wider knowledge about Gen Z’s relationship to the food industry. An EIT survey from 2021 revealed young people in this age bracket feel largely let down by the food sector.

There are many reasons why young people may feel more conventional ways of consuming are not fit for purpose. The EIT lists reasons like food’s negative impact on the climate crisis, as well as food producers and companies not doing enough to tackle other issues like health inequality, malnutrition, pollution and waste.

Flexitarianism is of growing interest to food companies too – particularly those producing plant-based meat alternatives. Marc Coloma, CEO and Co-Founder of Heura Foods told Food Matters Live in a recent interview that his start-up “welcomes flexitarians as regular customers”.

We want to empower people to vote for a more sustainable food system and eat their favourite recipes without it having a toll on the environment,” he said.

Flexitarianism is on the rise more generally among British eaters too, though uptake is slower than with young people specifically. In 2019, 13% of those surveyed by YouGov reported following a flexitarian diet – this has since risen to 16%.

Beyond this diet, 2% of respondents reported following a vegan diet in 2021. This is only slightly below the estimate of how many vegans there are in the world, which Ipsos estimates is around 3% of the global population.  

Some 5% of respondents reported following a vegetarian diet and 3% a pescatarian one. This means that in total, one in 10 Brits avoids eating meat completely (though some eat fish), and a quarter either doesn’t eat meat or does so only occasionally.

This tracks with data released shortly after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which suggested 25% of millennials, and 12% of Brits generally considered themselves more open to plant-based diets as a result of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns.

As a result of Brits’ increasing acceptance of plant-based diets – and innovation in foods associated with the regime – the number of people who consider themselves mainly meat-eaters is waning, albeit slowly.

According to YouGov data, 73% of respondents were meat-eaters in 2019 and this fell to 70% in December 2021. Among young people, only 52% reported being full-time meat eaters in 2021.

Equip yourself with the most up to date market insight and consumer data on the burgeoning plant-based market at this Trends Panel:

A taste of trends: plant-based products in 2023

Tuesday 15 November 2022 | 14:30 – 16:00 GMT

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