For years, they’ve berated meat-lovers, desperately trying to convert everyone to the to the sacred church of veganism.
Yet the millenial-driven obsession with all things plant-based might now be dying a slow death.
Household brands are starting to ditch their eco-friendly offerings due to a lack of sales.
First it was Pret, which closed half of its vegetarian and vegan-only stores, after admitting many customers don’t see themselves as ‘full-time vegetarians’.
Then Nestle joined in, pulling two of its plant-based brands from shops in the UK following lacklustre demand.
And now Innocent. The drinks company has scrapped its dairy-free milk range after, joking that just five people had brought the beverage.
Experts say Brits may now be realising that going plant-based ‘doesn’t have to be all or nothing’ and that it is healthy to include a some meat and fish in their diet.
The exact numbers of vegans now in the UK are almost impossible to establish, but rates have soared.
One suggested around 600,000 people are currently believed to be on a plant-based diet, while another in 2021 said almost one-in-three Brits used alternative milks.
Veganism’s global appeal has, in part been inspired by celebrities including pop singers Ellie Goulding, Lizzo and Billie Eilish, who have spoken publicly about their plant-based diets.
Some take up the diet for health reasons, with studies showing that going plant-based reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes, as well as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and promoting a healthy body weight.
Others become vegan for environmental reasons, as industrial-scale farms for meat and dairy production contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
People in their droves turning to veganism, has inspired a whole market of strange offerings like cashew milk mozzarella, organic jackfruit and flakey nutritional yeast.
What should a balanced diet look like?
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count;
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain;
- 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on;
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options;
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily);
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts;
- Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day;
- Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day.
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
However, those avoiding meat can be at risk of deficiencies of key vitamins such as iron, b12, calcium and zinc — which are found in high levels in red meat, fish and dairy products.
So has millennials’ love for veganism suddenly soured?
‘I think many people are finally realising that health doesn’t have to be all or nothing; you can eat a plant-based diet without being fully vegan, and that including small amounts of both meat and fish within the diet can be healthy,’ Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a specialist registered dietitian told MailOnline.
‘Red meat in small amounts for example is a great source of easy to absorb iron — needed for energy — white fish provides iodine — for metabolism — as well as lean protein, and oily fish is abundant in heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
‘The issue with some vegan products is that they are far from being a healthier alternative.’
Vegan cheese can contain up to a third of a person’s daily saturated fat allowance, while some dairy free ice creams can contain a third more sugar than their dairy counterparts but half the protein.
Some plant based yoghurts can also contain up to double the calories of their non-vegan alternatives.
On top of this, plant-based options are not always fortified with the vitamins and minerals they are missing.
Ms Ludlam-Raine added: ‘Many vegan products seem to have a health halo around them.
‘But just because they are meat-free it doesn’t mean you can ignore the ingredients list, which is where the information lies regarding the health of the product.’
Innocent — known for its popular fruit smoothies — announced it was scrapping its dairy free milk range after disappointing sales.
The £1.85 products — which come in hazelnut, coconut and almond flavours — will no longer be available as of April.
‘We know some of you really love our coconut, hazelnut and almond drinks, so we wanted to say a big thanks for buying them. We really appreciate all five of you,’ the company said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Nestlé also announced it was pulling its plant-based Garden Gourmet and Wunda brands from retail in the UK and Ireland, following lacklustre sales.
While Garden Gourmet comprised meat-free burgers, mince and sausage, Wunda is a pea-based milk alternative.
In a statement Nestlé said: ‘The UK plant-based market is very crowded and competitive and the last two years have been particularly challenging.
‘Launching a new brand is always a complex process, balancing risks with opportunities.
‘Despite the investment we’ve put behind those new brands, we have learnt that establishing and scaling of new brands would require more investment over a longer period of time than originally anticipated.’
In a statement on Twitter, Innocent Drinks said: ‘We know some of you really love our coconut, hazelnut and almond drinks, so we wanted to say a big thanks for buying them. We really appreciate all five of you’
In December sandwich chain Pret A Manger decided to close almost all of its meat-free Veggie Pret branches
Ms Ludlam-Raine told MailOnline: ‘I think it’s a real shame though that food manufacturers are reducing their vegan or plant-free ranges, as it impacts the people who need and rely on them.
‘The same can be seen for gluten-free products too.
‘The trend of eating gluten-free may be slowly diminishing, but that doesn’t mean that there are any fewer people who have coeliac disease and really need these products.’
But it is not only Nestlé’s vegan products that have bore the brunt of changing consumer habits.
The number of meat alternative lines on sale in the traditional big four supermarkets and Waitrose has shrunk by over 10 per cent in the past six months, analysis of data from retail research company Assosia by The Grocer revealed last week.
The Tofoo Co — which sells a range of scrambled, smoked and crispy tofu — suffered a 42.9 per cent decrease in range volumes.
Unilever’s The Vegetarian Butcher was another big casualty, losing almost a third of its lines, while meat-free classics Quorn and Linda McCartney’s lines were down by 6.6 and 6.7 per cent respectively.
‘The rapid growth seen by the meat substitutes market in recent years has been driven by the increasingly significant meat reduction trend,’ Alice Pilkington, a food and drink analyst at market research firm, Mintel, told MailOnline.
She said: ‘While veganism remains niche, the proportion of people who are actively reducing the amount of red meat and poultry they eat reached 37 per cent of consumers in 2022.
‘The relative price of these products in comparison to cheaper meat-free meals will consequently have become a barrier for many meat reducers as their incomes were squeezed.’
But the meat substitute space is now ‘an incredibly competitive landscape’, Ms Pilkington said.
The number of meat alternative lines on sale in the traditional big four supermarkets and Waitrose has also shrunk by over 10 per cent in the past six months, analysis of Assosia data by The Grocer revealed last week. Unilever’s The Vegetarian Butcher lost almost a third of its lines
Earlier this month, Nestlé also announced it was pulling its plant-based Garden Gourmet and Wunda brands from retail in the UK and Ireland, following lacklustre sales. While Garden Gourmet comprised meat-free burgers, mince and sausage, Wunda is a pea-based milk alternative
She added: ‘Nestlé’s withdrawal of Garden Gourmet and the rationalization of supermarket meat-free ranges in recent months is demonstrative of the challenges that brands now face.
‘Whilst the environmental and health motivations behind meat reduction will remain strong and support the market in the long term, the more pressing need to save money on grocery shopping will make affordable meat-free meals made from ingredients such as legumes and vegetables more appealing to consumers in the short term.’
Meanwhile, Dr Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston University’s medical school, said: ‘When it comes to eating more vegan meals, it is also important to remember that this can be done without these alternative products, using pulses such as beans, peas and lentils or tofu.
‘So, it is hard to say if veganism has peaked, but perhaps is maturing and looking to include a wider range of foods.’
In autumn 2021 Baileys’ vegan alternative Baileys Almande was also discontinued. ‘This was a strategic decision to focus on the rest of the portfolio’, a spokesperson for Baileys told MailOnline
Equally he added, ‘there are challenges nutritionally with dairy-free alternatives to milk with not only protein often being less in these products, but also key micronutrients such as B12, calcium and iodine’.
He said: ‘With a number of these products aiming for a clean label or organic status, fortification with these nutrients is sometime even less or non-existent.’
Sandwich chain Pret A Manger in December also decided to close almost all of its meat-free Veggie Pret branches.
With vegan croissants, ‘Rainbow Flatbread’ and bircher muesli bowl, featured on its extensive menu, the first Veggie Pret opened in Soho, London in 2016 following a successful trial.
At its peak, the chain, which has 400 outlets across the UK, had ten veggie branches.
It also bought firm rival Eat to transform its outlets into branches catering entirely for vegetarians and vegans.
But plans were turned upside down when the pandemic and lockdowns prevented people visiting the chain to buy lunch.
In a statement at the end of last year, the chain said: ‘More of our customers are choosing veggie options but may not see themselves as full-time vegetarians, so all of our shops will continue to offer a majority meat-free and vegan menu.’
Now there are just five remaining Veggie Prets, with three in London, one in Oxford and the final branch in Manchester.
In autumn 2021, Baileys’ vegan alternative Baileys Almande was also discontinued.
‘This was a strategic decision to focus on the rest of the portfolio’, a spokesperson for Diageo, which represents Baileys, told MailOnline.
Bridget Benelam, nutrition communications manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, told MailOnline: ‘Well-planned vegan diets can be healthy, and there is evidence that plant-rich diets have health benefits, but this depends on the food choices that people make.
‘Vegan products are not automatically healthier and may contain high levels of salt, sugars or saturated fat.
‘Where vegan products are replacing less healthy options such as processed meats, pastries or cakes then these remain options to choose less often.’
She added: ‘It is also important to remember that animal products are sources of key nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and so care needs to be taken that these are provided if following a vegan diet.’