The flexitarian diet; what might it mean for the meat industry?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Eating a balanced diet is considered important for maintaining good health. There are various trends that promote different aspects of healthy living and one that is currently gaining popularity is flexitarianism. Is this something that the meat industry should be concerned about or is it just an alternative word to describe how we choose to eat?

Kantar Worldpanel Usage data suggests that 35% of all meals are meat free. Campaigns such as the celebrity endorsed ‘Meat Free Monday’ have become widely recognised, helping to increase interest amongst consumers in reducing meat consumption. Flexitarian is a relatively new term and there is no universally agreed definition. Some definitions suggest that it is a predominantly vegetarian diet where meat is occasionally eaten as part of a meal. Other broader interpretations state that it encompasses diets where a conscious effort is made to reduce meat consumption. The Foresight Factory, for example, includes people who ‘sometimes moderate certain meats’, as well as those who ‘omit certain meats’ and believe that as much as 68% of the GB adult population can be considered flexitarian.

Chart showing 68% of UK consumers are flexitarians

Why is this a concern?

The reasons why people engage with the flexitarian trend span a wide range of topics, including health, finance, ethics and environmental concerns. Kantar Worldpanel define flexitarians as people who consume meat four or less times in a week and suggest that the number of flexitarians is growing at more than five times the rate of the GB population, it therefore clearly has a broad appeal and could be more of a threat to the meat industry than vegetarianism. Approximately 5% of the GB population report to be vegetarian, a proportion which has only increased very slightly over the past three years.

Giving consumers a reason to eat meat

In terms of the wider meat industry, a flexitarian diet does not necessarily signify a shift towards alternative protein sources such as pulses, and it might provide some opportunities for product development. Mintel and the Foresight Factory have identified new product lines which are tapping into this trend and targeting this emerging market. Some examples of new products available in the UK include sausages which contain a combination of meat and vegetables or mince made up of meat and beans. Some meat brands have even launched a range of vegetarian sausages and burgers alongside their regular products.

If a trend of reduced meat consumption does develop, it may pose challenges for the meat industry in the future. In terms of red meat, AHDB’s consumer tracker, conducted by YouGov, has found that 19% of people surveyed perceive red meat to not be good for their health. However, 63% of people perceive it to be a good source of iron. This suggests that some information about the health benefits of meat are less well understood. Through its consumer marketing activity, AHDB continues to address this lack of understanding, by working with industry to promote the many health benefits associated with red meats such as the nutritional value of iron and B vitamins to remind people of this.