The rise of plant-based living

Date : 22 October 2019

Plant-based diets are increasingly popular. Not only are more people following a flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan diet, but there’s greater choice and availability of these foods than ever before. Hannah explores this behavioural shift towards plant-based living…



What’s driving the trend? 

The British Dietetic Association defines a plant-based diet as based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products.

Publications on sustainable diets, such as the Eat-Lancet report, BDA’s One Blue Dot, and extensive media coverage around processed meat, health, and extinction rebellion have generated noise and contributed to plant-based diets becoming top of mind for many. 

These environmental concerns are clearly resonating with shoppers and it’s a motivator for some adopting a plant-based diet. IGD’s latest ShopperVista research suggests that health remains the biggest driver of  vegetarian and vegan diets overall - but unsurprisingly, sustainability has moved up the agenda and is now the top reason for younger shoppers adopting these diets[i].

55% of UK shoppers are now actively reducing, or considering reducing, their meat intake – which is an increase of 3% on last year[i]

What’s interesting is that the growth comes mainly from flexitarian diets - although both veganism and vegetarianism have also seen increased interest. That’s probably not surprising, given celebrity social media endorsements of #meatfreemonday and #flexifriday, but what is new is the demographic. Last year, IGD ran the same research, in the same calendar week, and found plant-based diets to be a story of post-millennials and veganism. This year, the major growth has been seen in middle aged shoppers adopting flexitarian diets - up by 43% year on year.  

Is being plant-based more accessible than ever? 

With plant-based meals becoming more mainstream, availability has increased. Gone are the days when plant-based equates to eating a bowlful of vegetables.  

For people who are giving up or reducing animal products for reasons beyond health, they often still enjoy an indulgent moment and prioritise taste over nutrition.  

This has led to a new market of accessible, plant-based ‘junk food.’ 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[ii]. Whilst some of this will be balanced meals, this also captures permissible treats, such as meatless burgers, pasties, sausage rolls and even vegan ice creams. 

Whilst there are dedicated plant-based food outlets like Veggie Pret, Biff’s Jack Shack (London) and Tell your friends (London), many traditional pubs and restaurants are also offering a more extensive menu, catering to plant-based customers. For example, following a successful trial, JD Wetherspoons has recently rolled out its faux meat burger to over 850 UK outlets[iii].

Source: Meatless Farm


Morten Toft Bech, founder of The Meatless Farm Co, who makes the burgers, said that partnering with a “giant is testament to the fact that plant-based is well and truly mainstream”[iii]

Everyday choices

Of course, this is a way of life, not just for the out of home sector. Retailers are increasingly giving dedicated shelf space to plant-based products and many are even launching their own ranges. An example of this is Tesco’s Plant Chef. 


Source: IGD Research


Tesco described its new Plant Chef private label range as filling a gap in the market for more affordable plant-based dishes. It follows the retailer’s partnership with Wicked Kitchen, which launched at the start of 2018. The Plant Chef range focuses on helping shoppers make easy plant-based meal swaps, with some products sitting alongside traditional meat options instore. Other products will be housed in dedicated plant-based and vegetarian zones. 

It’s not just meat alternatives that are seeing growth. This month, Oatly launches a new range of oat-based, vegan ice creams in the UK. It aims to capitalise on the growing market of former meat-eaters and vegetarians, many of whom miss the chance to indulge at home. It follows Unilever’s launch of Ben and Jerry’s Cookies on Cookie Dough in September– a vegan alternative to the band’s existing flavour. 


Source: Oatly 


Here to stay

What’s clear is that plant-based diets – whether that’s flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan – are here to stay. We see consumers’ hunger for plant-based products for every occasion, and retailers are already capitalising on this and dedicating more shelf space to these products. It’s becoming a way of life for increasing numbers, and this culture shift is set to grow in line with aspirations to be more sustainable.


[i] IGD ShopperVista 2019

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

Hannah Skeggs

Hannah Skeggs

Nutrition and Scientific Affairs Manager