Plant based alternative consumption doubles in UK

Posted: 11 November 2021 | | No comments yet

The rise in plant-based food consumption was largest amongst younger generations, and women were also more likely to go plant-based than men.

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The proportion of UK people reporting eating and drinking plant-based alternative foods such as plant-based milk, vegan sausages and vegetable burgers nearly doubled between 2008–2011 and 2017–2019, according to a new study in Science of the Total Environment.

The study was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with partners the University of Oxford. It is believed to be the first analysis of plant-based alternative foods (PBAF) consumption trends in the UK.

Trends from more than 15,000 individuals aged 1.5 years and over were analysed using consumption data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008–20191. The team found that the proportion of people that reported to eat and drink plant-based alternative foods nearly doubled over the period of the study from 6.7 percent to 13.1 percent.

The largest increases were reported among Generation Y (11-23 years old), Millennials (24-39 years old), and among those that reported low meat consumption. Women were also 46 percent more likely to report consumption of plant-based alternative foods than men.

The researchers say their study suggests that alternative plant-based foods are likely to play an important role in dietary change away from meat and dairy, and take a considerable place in UK diets. However, it remains unknown how healthy and sustainable these alternatives are, so the team call for urgent research to see if the shift to these foods should be strategically promoted.

“A global transformation towards sustainable food systems is crucial for delivering on climate change mitigation targets worldwide. In high- and middle-income settings, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are increasingly being explored and developed as a strategy to reduce consumption of animal-sourced foods,” said Dr Pauline Scheelbeek from LSHTM and study author.  

“However, the extent to which these foods play a role in dietary change remains largely understudied. This study helps fill that gap.”

To meet the targets set out in the Paris agreements a global transition to sustainable diets is crucial and being widely promoted. Research has demonstrated that in high- and middle-income settings (with diets that are typically high in animal-sourced foods) substituting animal products with plant-based sources of food can substantially reduce impacts on the environment and improve population health.

As part of its recommendations for achieving a reduction in emissions, the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) has suggested a 20 percent reduction in high‑carbon meat and dairy products by 2030, rising to a 35 percent reduction by 2050, with increased consumption of plant-based products.

However, social facilitation, pleasure, and beliefs about the importance of meat in the diet are barriers for many to change diets. Plant based alternatives present a potential solution as they are designed to mimic the taste and texture of their animal-based counterparts and limit changes in meal habits and cooking skills.

“The willingness to reduce meat intake among populations in many European countries has increased rapidly over the past decade,” added Dr Scheelbeek.

“Unfortunately, this does not always result into actual dietary change. The plant-based alternative foods could be a stepping stone for people that are willing to reduce meat consumption, but find it hard to fit this into their daily lives. This study shows that more and more people are applying this pathway to achieve their goals on more plant-based diets.”