Meat-free and free-from sales set to top £1bn in UK in 2013, Mintel reports

Sales of meat-free and free-from foods are set to top £1bn during 2013, according to new research from Mintel.

Proving it is not a fad, the meat-free and free-from foods market in the UK has experienced robust growth since 2007, with the market seeing a 39% increase in the past five years alone, said researchers. And there seems to be no limit to this growth, with sales set to to top £1bn in 2013.

Meat-free and free-from sales are expected to reach a total of £949m in 2012 with meat-free sales set to reach £607m and free-from market sales expected to reach £342m, said Mintel. Almost four in 10 (38%) Brits have bought vegetarian or meat-free food, while one in five (20%) have bought free-from food.

Amy Price, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said: “The meat-free segment has benefited from a more mainstream positioning than free-from foods, with around one in 10 Brits avoiding red meat as part of a healthy lifestyle. However, it is the free-from market which has been driving overall growth, benefiting from increased awareness and diagnosis among allergy sufferers and those self-diagnosing. Free-from has also benefited from a surge in new product development by the specialist brands and own-label players, an increase in merchandising space in-store and endorsement from celebrities as far and wide as Bill Clinton, Kim Kardashian and Andy Murray.” 

Mintel’s consumer research finds as many as 15% of Brits choose to keep red meat out of their diet and the majority of which are avoiding red meat for health and lifestyle reasons (13%). Indeed, just 2% of consumers avoid it because they have an allergy or intolerance. 

Dairy is the single most avoided food type because of allergies and intolerance. Almost one in 10 (8%) Brits give all products containing dairy (for example – dairy, lactose and cow’s milk and cow’s milk products) a wide berth. A further 7% avoid dairy for health and lifestyle reasons. Meanwhile, a greater number of consumers avoid fish or shellfish as part of a general healthy lifestyle (6%) than those who are avoiding it because of an allergy or intolerance (4%). Overall, 8% avoid wheat, 9% avoid gluten, 9% poultry and 8% nuts. 

Meaty-sales for meat-free market 
Meat-free foods continue to dominate the meat-free and free-from market with a 64% share. Valued at an estimated £607m in 2012, meat-free foods have increased 20% over the past five years, reports Mintel.

Within the market – ready meals account for around a third of sales and are worth £214m. Pastry (£116m and snacks (£84m) make up the remaining top three meat-free foods. Chilled account for 70% of the sales while frozen foods make up the remaining 30%.

The meat-free segment has profited from a more mainstream positioning than free-from foods, with around 13% of consumers avoiding red meat as part of a healthy lifestyle, while some 6% classify themselves as vegetarians. 

“Perfectly positioned to thrive in the current climate, meat-free foods benefit from a cost, health, ethical and environmental stand as well as providing variety in consumer diets. The rising cost of meat has propped up past performance and could act as a boost to the meat-free market in the future,” said Price. 

While sales continue to rise, the meat-free market continues to face challenges. Over four in 10 Brits (42%) say they do not like the taste of meat substitutes, while more than a third (36%) believe vegetarian and meat-free foods taste bland. Around a similar number (34%) claim not to know how to cook with meat substitutes. Meanwhile, almost half (49%) of British consumers opt for dishes that do not require meat or meat substitutes (such as pasta with pesto) when attempting to avoid meat. 

Just 13% of the population say they buy vegetarian or meat-free foods as a cheaper alternative to meat or fish or poultry, said Mintel. With the retail price of lamb rising by 21% between 2010 and 2011 and fish seeing a 9% jump over the same period, both outstripping the 6% increase in all food, it seems there is more opportunity for the meat or fish substitutes market to do more to position itself as an alternative option.

“The sizeable group of health-conscious consumers are ripe for targeting through vegetarian or meat-free foods and meat substitutes, possibly along the lines of ‘stealth health’, encouraging families to swap a meat-based meal for one that is vegetarian and therefore better for them,” said Price. 

Free-from sales 
Although accounting for a smaller 36% share of the total meat-free and free from market, the free-from segment has been driving overall growth. Between 2007 and 2012, sales of free-from foods almost doubled – rising 90% to reach £342m by 2012. The market is primarily made up of gluten or wheat-free products which are valued at £160m and account for a 47% share of the market and dairy free products which are valued at £157m and account for a 46% market share. 

Cost continues to act as a barrier for many consumers with the high price premium of free-from foods, in categories such as bread, indeed, just 14% of users of these products say they are ‘worth paying more for’.