Championing plant-based diets without compromising nutrition

Date : 18 March 2020

Hannah Skeggs

Nutrition & Scientific Affairs Manager

With many UK consumers reducing the amount of meat and animal products they’re eating, find out how businesses can develop plant-based products that don’t miss key nutrients.


It’s common knowledge that vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets are on the rise. 55% of UK consumers now claim they’re actively reducing or considering reducing their meat intake. Many are motivated by the perception that these diets are healthier (46%), more ethical (45%) or better for the environment (38%)[i].

Are these diets always healthy?

A plant-rich diet is one where plant-based produce makes up the majority of foods consumed, but small amounts of animal products are included[ii] [iii].

A well-planned plant-rich diet can provide you with all the nutrients your body needs[iv]. However, some micronutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin B12 can be easily missed.

  • A vegetarian diet usually includes both dairy and eggs making it easier to obtain vitamins D & B12, iron and calcium, which are abundant in these foods.
  • A vegan diet does not include any animal products, and therefore requires more planning to ensure nutritional requirements are met.

Eating a plant-rich diet based on fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses and wholegrains can increase the amount of fibre, vitamins and minerals consumed. However, the consumer assumption that plant-based products are healthy is not always correct. E.g. swapping from cows’ milk to an unfortified plant-based milk could be detrimental to calcium intakes.

Public Health Guidance, the Eatwell Guide[v] and the adapted Vegetarian[vi] and Vegan[vii] Eatwell Guides can help consumers visualise a healthy balanced diet and avoid missing essential nutrients.

The business opportunity

New product development (NPD) of plant-based products is thriving, and in 2018 the UK launched more vegan food products than any other country[viii]. January 2020 saw even more NPD, with new, plant-based ranges launched by Sainsbury’s, Wagamama and KFC to name just a few. With such huge demand there’s a significant business opportunity to create new and innovative food and drink products appealing to these consumer groups.

Many shoppers report that they’d consume more plant-rich foods if it was more convenient[ix]. According to research by the British Takeaway Campaign, the sector has responded quickly to changes in consumer appetites and vegan orders increased by 388% between 2016 to 2018[x]. There has also been significant ‘on the go’ innovation such as the M&S Plant Kitchen range, featuring items such as a ‘No tuna and Sweetcorn’ sandwich (made instead with marinated soy protein and vegan mayo), and dedicated ‘Veggie Pret’ stores.

Many consumers are looking to increase their consumption of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains[ix]

With 88% of shoppers trying to eat more healthily[ix], it’s always worth considering the ingredients of your products. Given that many consumers are looking to increase their consumption of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains[ix], promoting food and drink products with these can help people to consume more vitamins, minerals and fibre.

The quality of proteins should also be considered if following a plant-rich diet, as it’s generally easier to get high quality proteins (based on essential amino acids) from animal products than vegetable sources. Food products aimed at vegans and vegetarians should include a variety of sources of plant protein such as beans, lentils, chickpeas or tofu.

There are many new innovators in this ‘protein’ space, and some well-established brands like Quorn. Quorn is an innovative protein source called ‘mycoprotein’ sourced from fermented fungus. It’s high in fibre, low in saturated fat and uses 90% less land and water than is necessary for some animal protein sources. It’s also a good source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Quorn has recently modified much of its ranges to remove egg, making them vegan and more accessible to everyone.

What about fortification?

Milk drinks were one of the first plant-based categories to really offer an alternative to animal equivalents. Dairy alternatives should ideally be fortified to match the micronutrient content of dairy including calcium, vitamins D & B12, iodine[v]. Fortified options are now readily available to buy across the milk category and in many other categories including children’s yogurts and breakfast cereals.

Bear in mind that fortification may impact on the cost, manufacturing process and taste of your product. It’s also worth noting that organic versions cannot be fortified due to strict regulatory standards, so shoppers choosing these options will need to source nutrients like calcium elsewhere.

It’s clear that we’re going through a period of significant change in what people choose to eat and drink. This presents a huge opportunity for industry, to create new products and solutions, but also comes with great responsibility. Our bodies rely on a wide range of nutrients to function and consumers often don’t realise that they may be missing out. We therefore recommend businesses consider their product recipes and communication when meeting consumer demands.

Important nutrients to consider:
Calcium: 950 mg/day DRV, Source: Calcium-set tofu, fortified foods
Iron: 11 (*16) mg/day, Source: lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, fortified foods
Zinc: 9.4-16.3 (*7.5-12.7) mg/day, Source: beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, quinoa
Vitamin D: 15 µg/day, Source: fortified foods, supplements
Vitamin B12: 4 µg/day, Source: Nutritional yeast, fortified foods, supplements
Omega-3 fats: 2 heaped tablespoons Flaxseed/ Linseed/ chia seeds or 6 walnut halves
Iodine: Supplement 140 µg/day OR around 500ml milk alternative with added iodine OR one and a half to two sheets 4g of nori
Selenium: Supplement 60 or 75µg/day or ½ a brazil nut
* for pre-menopausal women


[i] IGD ShopperVista, 2019. Plant based diets: entering the mainstream? Part one. Available to subscribers:

[ii] World Resources Institute, 2020. Playbook for Guiding Diners Toward Plant-Rich Dishes in Food Service. Available:

[iii] British Dietetic Association, 2019. One Blue Dot. Available: [Accessed Feb 2020]

[iv] NHS Choices, 2018. The vegan diet. Available:

[v] Public Health England, 2016. The Eatwell guide. Available: [Accessed Feb 2020]

[vi] Vegetarian Society, 2018. Vegetarian Eatwell guide. Available:

[vii] The Vegan Society, 2020. Vegan Eatwell Guide. Available:

[viii] Mintel, 2019. Veganuary UK. Available:

[ix] IGD ShopperVista, 2020. Health, Nutrition and Ethics.

[x] British Takeaway Campaign, 2019. Cooking up Growth, Serving up Talent In the takeaway sector