More and more Brits are turning veganism, so why’s that?

Veganism is on the up. According to Mintel, some 28% of Brits said they were consciously reducing their meat consumption during the six months to August.

And with meat alternative brands gunning for the mainstream, where better to gauge just how far the category has come than at last week’s Vegfest exhibition at London’s Olympia?

The vegan food showcase was launched five years ago as a consumer event, but as the category becomes increasingly popular, organisers this year decided to also open their doors to the trade for the first time.

More than 12,000 tickets were sold to consumers in addition to several hundred trade delegates – attracted by celebrity speakers like Harry Potter actor Evanna Lynch and MP Kerry McCarthy. Buyers from major supermarkets were also present in abundance.

Vegfest’s organisers say the success of the show is down to growing consumer awareness over the benefits of a lower meat diet – be it in the form of flexitarianism, vegetarianism or full-on veganism. And vegan food companies are reaping the benefits.

Brands like US success story Beyond Meat have secured millions in investment, and it looks like it will bring its plant-based Beyond Burger to the UK next year. Supermarket staples like Quorn and Alpro continue to go from strength to strength.

Pot meal brand Bol has switched to vegan ingredients, while Tofurky recently tapped into the UK’s £11.8bn convenience sandwich market following its launch in Whole Foods Market, and has set its sights on bringing the TLT (tempeh, lettuce and tomato) to the wider population.

 ‘Mock meat’ 

But things aren’t entirely rosy. There is still controversy over the marketing of meat alternatives, with some complaining the ongoing use of terms such as ‘mock meat’ is putting potential customers off.

Merchandising is also still confused in many supermarkets, with many meat-free meals hidden away in obscure corners.

Indeed, plant-based product development consultant Jennifer Pardoe argues vegan products should sit alongside meat, despite that being an unappealing prospect for many vegans.

Seeing the products in areas they are familiar with – often at cheaper prices than equivalent meat products – would encourage more shoppers to try them, she claims. It’s a stepping stone to the average consumer reducing their meat intake, after all, and that is a win for the wider vegan agenda.

It’s a position shared by Quorn CEO Kevin Brennan, who said at a WWF/Compassion in World Farming conference earlier this month that he envisaged a future where meat and non-meat items are sold side-by-side in aisles marked ‘animal protein’ and ‘plant protein’.

So, have vegan products got the backing to make it in the mainstream? With the social media generation creating resources such as BOSH!, a feed of trendy vegan recipe videos and market savvy investors hitting the convenience market, it’s looking increasingly likely. And if the Beyond Burger avoids a hold up at customs, the meat industry had better watch out.