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The inevitable rise in Meat-Free Alternatives

How do you know times are changing in the eyes of consumers when it comes to meat-free alternatives? One of the most startling evolutions has been the meat-free sector in retail. Years ago, this category was niche, you would hardly recognise its presence. However, in the last few years, meat-free has shown its ready to position itself as a viable contender. Some supermarkets even have meat-free alternatives sitting alongside the meat equivalents! When you shop the meat-free sector today, the aisle is abundant with options from 'bacon' to 'chicken' and more!

Is meat-free the future?

Do you recall the days when opting for meat-free at a restaurant meant the dish excluding meat or a simple vegetable burger on offer? Or how about food shopping and asking for the meat-free aisle - as its existence was minimal and hidden away. Times have changed, and the market has, and still is, evolving at pace and innovating more frequently than most other sectors. The rapid expansion means meat-free options are accessible and intriguing to the FMCG world.

However, let's be factual for a moment. The meat industry is still the largest, and despite all the news and innovation surrounding meat alternatives, it is still very niche in terms of market share. But could meat-free be the future? Could we see consumers switching to a purely plant-based diet or adopting a flexitarian approach? Quite simply, yes, and here are some reasons why.

Conscious shoppers

We are becoming increasingly concerned with where our food comes from, how it gets to our plate and the environmental impact this has. Brands need to understand how important consumer perception and conscious decisions are to their purchase intention. The most powerful and accurate way of understanding customers is through Consumer Research.

Increased Availability

Ever noticed that when something becomes popular, every brand operating in similar sectors tries to emulate the success and capitalise on the growth phase? Take the latest trend within the functional beverage market - every drinks brand has an offering to help with immunity to focus or mood-boost to energise. Last month, the brand Robinsons launched Benefit Drops in four varieties: Vitality, Immunity, Boost or Focus! Why does this happen? When brands see a sector experiencing a growth trajectory, they want a slice of the market - after all, why should their competitors have it all!

How does this affect meat-free? Well, many existing meat-free brands have ramped up their innovation to capitalise on the growth phase. We have also witnessed new players enter the market. Then we have the meat manufacturers pivoting their operations to enable them to produce meat-free alternatives, such as Birds Eye, which recently launched a new vegan line. Danish Crown, the largest producer of pork in Europe and the largest producer of beef in Denmark, converted one of its meat manufacturing plants to produce meat-free products. Foodservice is also joining the revolution - Burger King's flagship store in Leicester Square, London, reopened with a dedicated meat-free menu for April. In 2020, Gregg's vegan sausage roll reportedly accounted for a Y-o-Y sales increase of 13.5% (BBC News). These are just some of the numerous brands incorporating meat-free products into their repertoire.

Improved Taste & Texture

When it comes to meat alternatives, taste and texture have been the highest barriers to entry. Historically both attributes were rated poor, with products often being described as bland. With advances in food technology, taste and texture have become less of a compromise, with some brands even fooling consumers into thinking they were eating meat! A good example is the recent publicity stunt by the brand THIS at the European Pizza and Pasta Show (October 2021). They created a fake Italian meat brand sausage, which completely fooled consumers, but it was, in fact, their meat alternative! Perfect proof that taste and texture have come a long way!


One blatant thing is the increased accessibility to meat-free options. Back in the 1980s, in its infancy, you could only really find the brands Quorn and Linda McCartney on the shelf. Now, there are multiple brands and a wide breadth of products. Consumers are no longer confined to a burger or sausage alternative - you can have bacon, chicken, mince, jerky and much more.

In the past, the price was an issue for some consumers, with meat-free alternatives more expensive than their meat counterparts. However, with the industry expanding, more brands and products available, this has ultimately driven prices down to almost parity.

This is why it's vital for businesses to understand their market and their competitors through the eyes of the consumer, understanding where they are deemed to be market leaders or where their rivals might have the upper hand. Brand Tracking is the easiest way for brands to receive

Our Meat-Free Alternative Study

Our interest in this topic led us to research and create a White Paper looking into some of the dominant and emerging Meat Alternatives Brands, understanding who the market leader is, or whether there are areas in which others succeed. Want to know how recognisable the brands are, what consumers' perceptions are, and how loyal they are? Well, you can, when the paper is launched at the start of July!