Pandemic drives an increase in meat consumption across UK

2 Feb 2021

After years of growth, the movement of consumers away from meat has slowed in the UK, according to new data from Mintel. Over the course of 2020, the percentage of Brits reducing their meat consumption dropped from 51% in 2019 to only 41% in 2020.

This decline in those eschewing meat from their diets coincided with a rise in processed meat sales, which spiked 18% to £3.7 million ($5 million) in 2020. Sales of bacon, sausage and burgers all rose with gains of 18%, 20% and 26% respectively. Deli meats, a category that has waned in recent years, posted a 22% increase in category sales in 2020.

Pandemic drives an increase in meat consumption across UK

Mintel found part of the reason behind these gains is due to the comfort associated with meat dishes. Over half (58%) of consumers eating meat and poultry said that meals with meat are comforting. This finding is reflected in data from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), showing that in 2020 19% of those surveyed had eating habits that had become less healthy over the course of the pandemic with consumers seeking out more comforting and indulgent foods.

While eating less meat is widely considered by consumers to contribute to greater overall health, many also consider it better for the environment, which has become an important consideration for shoppers. In its survey, Mintel recorded that between 2018 and 2020, the number of Brits that considered eating less meat to be better for the environment increased from 25% to 42%. Similarly, a study from the consulting firm Kearney similarly found that as of this spring, 83% of consumers considered the environment when making purchases, up from 71% in 2019.

Nevertheless, the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19 has driven environmental and health considerations to take a back seat to other concerns such as value and availability. The IFIC found 28% of shoppers were worried about their ability to afford enough food in 2021.

Still, although the pandemic caused a seismic shift in consumption habits, Mintel expects this return to more meat consumption to be short lived. In the mid- to long-term, the market analysis company foresees a return to the general trend of eating less meat, and therefore offered a positive outlook for plant-based companies that are working to earn a bigger slice of the market even as they continue to compete on price and perceived benefits as compared to animal-based options.

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