Waning veganism, brands, and flexitarians

Understanding consumer attitudes can help brands navigate these changes

Veganism was all the rage in the late 2010s. New brands were popping up on supermarket shelves, and in January 2020, we saw the peak in Google search interest for vegan food in the UK. So what happened? In 2020 Veganuary smashed its sign-up record with 400,000 registrants, beating the record from the previous year. But since then things have started to drift out of favour. 

A way to see how this has changed is by looking at consumer priorities — not just how they feel at a point in time, but how these feelings have evolved.

Fighting a losing battle

In November 2021, we asked UK consumers for their 2022 New Year’s resolutions; 22% of resolution makers said eating less meat and animal products was on their list. It was far from their main priority, sitting eleventh out of sixteen resolutions surveyed.

When we followed up this survey in December 2022, just 14% in the UK said they were planning to reduce their meat or animal product consumption in 2023, dropping to 14th on the resolution list.

And this decline wasn’t due to the difficulty of the task, as we can see that those who included reducing meat consumption in their resolutions had some of the most success in achieving their goals that year. Nonetheless, UK consumer priorities have clearly shifted. The number who say they’re interested in vegetarian food is down 34% since Q1 2020, with interest in vegan food declining 28% in the same time frame. In isolation, these figures may be cause for concern, but there’s still room for optimism.

Environmental attitudes are linked to dietary choice

Since the end of 2022, UK consumers have become more optimistic about their personal finances and less optimistic about the environment. When we break things down by diets, vegans and vegetarians hold strong environmental attitudes, with 49% saying they have an interest in such issues. For comparison, only 22% of meat eaters (with no plans to change their diet) say the same. The link between dietary choice and environmental interest is strong, but in December last year we asked people who were interested in trying Veganuary what their motivations were. Surprisingly, environmental reasons didn’t come out on top — health reasons did.

You can see the data begins to paint an interesting picture. Consumer purse strings aren’t as tight as they were a year ago, but budgeting is still firmly on shoppers’ radars. At the same time, interest in vegan food, and how people feel about the environment has been declining. While this might be a factor in why dietary choices are changing, how brands market plant-based food could do with taking on a new flex. In Europe, there’s been strong growth in the number of flexitarians, and it’s this group that brands should have their eye on

Interest in vegan products hasn’t (ve)gone

Flexitarians don’t have the same level of environmental interest as vegans or vegetarians, but they’re far more likely to say that they’re dieting to improve their fitness, feel healthy, or lose weight. It’s something that Beyond Meat has caught on to, launching a campaign in October shouting about the health benefits of their food over the meat alternative. It’s why understanding consumer attitudes, and trending them over time, can help brands navigate these changes.

Featured image: Sam Lion / Pexels

Tom Hedges, Senior Trends Analyst at GWI

Tom is a Senior Trends Analyst at GWI, where he works with survey data representing 2.8bn consumers across 53 markets to uncover the latest trends. His background spans digital marketing and communications, and his work at GWI focuses on creating content through deep data analysis that provides actionable insights. His areas of research expertise include sports, emerging technology, and media.

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