Dan Crossley

The way people buy and eat food is changing, partly driven by a new interest in healthy eating and ethical choices. 

A recent survey for the Eating Better alliance found 44% of Britons were willing or committed to reducing their meat intake, or cutting it out of their diets altogether. Around the world people are becoming ‘flexitarians’, eating less meat and dairy. Innova Market Insights predicts global sales of dairy alternative drinks will soon be more than double the $7.4bn recorded in 2010.

This shift - particularly among millennials - will affect the UK’s meat industry and related sectors. Will this spell disaster for sectors like beef and dairy? I don’t think so. People’s desire to find out where their food comes from can be a big opportunity for forward-thinking producers, if they focus on higher quality, higher animal welfare products.

Brexit will shape how we eat in the future. The government may be tempted to water down environmental and animal welfare regulations to make food exports cheaper. But progressive food and farming businesses understand we need to lock high standards in, not bargain them away.

Companies like Pret a Manger and Sodexo are reflecting customer concerns by championing veggie options and reformulating meat dishes to contain more plants. Many retailers have committed to 100% free-range eggs.

Another upcoming trend is food citizenship. People have been labelled as ‘consumers’ for so long, we almost believe our sole purpose in life is to buy stuff. It’s fascinating to see how people behave if they’re addressed as citizens rather than consumers. They are empowered to care about and act on issues such as animal welfare or climate change. That includes tens of thousands petitioning Sainsbury’s not to ‘ditch Fairtrade’.

Our recent work with the New Citizenship Project, retailers and other food industry insiders on food citizenship looks at how we’d achieve it; and what its impact would be. It’s an exciting piece of work with potentially profound impacts over the coming years. We are all food citizens - we just don’t realise it yet.

Dan Crossley is executive director at the Food Ethics Council