The number of people consuming plant-based alternative foods in the UK – foods like plant-based “milk”, sausages and burgers – has doubled since 2008, according to a new survey.

The study was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with partners the University of Oxford. It is believed to be the first analysis of plant-based alternative foods (PBAF) consumption trends in the UK.

Plant-based alternatives: the first survey of its kind in the UK


Trends from more than 15,000 individuals aged 1.5 years and over were analysed using consumption data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008-2019.

The team discovered that the proportion of people who reported to eat and drink plant-based alternative foods grew over the period of the study from 6.7% to 13.1%. nearly doubling.

The largest increases were reported among Generation Y (11-23 years old), Millennials (24-39 years old), and among those that reported low meat consumption. Women were 46% more likely to report consumption of plant-based alternative foods than men.

The researchers say their study suggests that alternative plant-based foods are likely to play an important role in dietary change away from meat and dairy, and take a considerable place in UK diets. However, it remains unknown how healthy and sustainable these alternatives are, so the team are now calling for urgent research to see if the shift to these foods should be promoted.

Plant-based alternatives just another form of unhealthy processed food, according to top plant-based-food scientist

plant-based sausage

A recent review study and accompanying press release from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have provided admissions that most current plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are no better than processed food – something we’ve described as ‘one of the worst things you can eat’ and a ‘food that makes you ugly’.

Although the press release is entitled ‘Food Scientists Aim to Make Plant-Based Protein Tastier and Healthier’ and focuses on supposedly positive developments in the future of plant-based meat alternatives, it’s difficult to ignore the scientists’ admissions about the present state of such products. In short, they satisfy neither the taste nor health claims made about them, and are actually probably very bad for you indeed.

Professor David Julian McClements notes that, although the plant-based food sector is apparently expanding to meet consumer demand, “a plant-based diet is not necessarily better than an omnivore diet from a nutritional perspective.”

He notes that plant-based products need to be fortified with micronutrients that are naturally present in animal meat, milk and eggs, including vitamin D, calcium and zinc. They also have to be made to provide the full complement of essential amino acids. 

According to McClements, ‘many of the current generation of highly processed, plant-based meat products are unhealthy because they’re full of saturated fat, salt and sugar.’ And this is no coincidence. Ultimately, that’s what these foods are, by their very nature: highly processed foods – the complete opposite of the foods they are intended to replace.

Click here to read more about this shock admission from somebody whose research is at the heart of making these products

In this new study, the team examined consumption trends in the UK by analysing national representative consumption data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey for the years 2008-2019. They found that from all plant-based alternative foods, plant-based milks were most popular among the UK population with approximately 1 in 13 people (7.4%) reporting to consume them in 2018 and 2019 as compared to 2.3% in 2008-2011.

The consumption of plant-based alternatives for other dairy products, such as vegan cheese and yoghurt, seems to be taking off at a slower pace, with only 1.2% of the respondents reporting to consume such products in 2018 and 2019.

As well as overall trends at population level, the researchers looked at age, socioeconomic and geographical sub-groups. Consumption of plant-based alternative foods were substantially higher among those with higher incomes.

Women were also more likely to report they had eaten plant-based alternative food than men, and younger generations (13-39 years of age) more than older generations.

Plant-based alternative foods are also clearly being used as a direct replacement for meat and dairy, because those reporting low meat consumption consumed, on average, triple the amount of plant-based alternative foods as compared to high meat eaters.

Professor Alan Dangour, a study author, said: “We are seeing a revolution in consumer patterns that could have dramatic impacts on our food systems. Our study shows just how quickly diets are changing in the UK and how willing the UK public are to adopt new foods. We must now ensure that as we transition to diets with more novel foods, the diets enhance public health and have a substantially lower impact on our planet.”

Dr Pauline Scheelbeek, another study author, added: “A global transformation towards sustainable food systems is crucial for delivering on climate change mitigation targets worldwide. In high- and middle-income settings, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are increasingly being explored and developed as a strategy to reduce consumption of animal-sourced foods. However, the extent to which these foods play a role in dietary change remains largely understudied. This study helps fill that gap.”

To meet the targets set out in the Paris agreements a global transition to sustainable diets is now being widely promoted.

As part of its recommendations for achieving a reduction in emissions, the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) has suggested a 20% reduction in “high-carbon” meat and dairy products by 2030, with the aim of increasing this to a 35% reduction by 2050.

Dr Scheelbeek continued: “The willingness to reduce meat intake among populations in many European countries has increased rapidly over the past decade. Unfortunately, this does not always result into actual dietary change. The plant-based alternative foods could be a stepping stone for people that are willing to reduce meat consumption, but find it hard to fit this into their daily lives. This study shows that more and more people are applying this pathway to achieve their goals on more plant-based diets.”

The fortunes of plant-based brands: cause for optimism?


At the same time, though, it’s clear that all isn’t well in the world of plant-based alternatives, as reflected in the disastrous ongoing performance of some of their biggest brands, most notably Beyond.

As Zero Hedge reported a little under a month ago, “Beyond Meat plunged 14% after reporting preliminary net revenue for third quarter of about $106 million, missing the estimate of $134.3 million by about 30%, and a huge disappointment to the company’s prior guidance which was $120 million to $140 million.”

Although the company had issue third-quarter guidance which anticipated a decline in net revenue, the decline was much greater than expected.

Beyond Meat said a number of different factors caused the lag in sales, including the impact of the new Covid-19 delta variant. The company said a Canadian distributor decreased retail orders for longer than expected as its restaurants reopened, and it had expected incremental orders that didn’t materialize after one of its large customers changed distributors. In addition, the company claimed that labor shortages delayed distribution expansion and made shelf-restocking harder, further harming profits.

Operational challenges also hurt its results, Beyond Meat claimed. A Pennsylvania facility lost drinking water for two weeks and another suffered water damage to inventory after severe weather.

Beyond Meat’s initial forecast for its third-quarter revenue disappointed investors when the company first released it at the beginning of August.

After soaring grocery sales last year during lockdowns, demand has fallen. At the same time, food service orders haven’t rebounded completely yet, even as restaurants operate at full capacity. Executives said last quarter that many eateries were being more conservative with their orders because they were unsure of the impact of the delta variant on business.

These developments do not come out of a clear blue sky for Beyond Meat. Back in May, we reported that the stocks of a number of plant-based companies, including Beyond Meat, had taken a similar slump, leading many companies to slash their prices in a desperate bid to increase sales.

Resistance to plant-based alternatives

The strength of the resistance against plant-based alternatives to meat has surprised and disappointed some, not least of all the companies making them. A recent study found that almost three-quarters of Australian men would rather die 10 years early than cut out meat.

Resistance has also come from the legislature in certain parts of the world. Texas lawmakers zeroed in on plant-based meats and passed a bill demanding plant-based meat companies to drop meat-related labels such as “beef” or “chicken” as it is deemed to be misleading to consumers.

There is a wider cause for concern because plant-based substitutes are loaded with vegetable oils and phytoestrogens while failing to provide equal nutrition to the products they’re supposed to replace. A scientists involved in the creation of plant-based meats even came out recently and admitted that these products are no better than other forms of unhealthy processed food. Quite the endorsement!

A low-fat vegetarian diet is linked with significantly lowered testosterone levels and, as we discussed in another article, animal fat is necessary for a healthy, functioning brain.

Despite these strong consumer and scientific indications that plant-based meat alternatives aren’t what consumers want to eat or should eat, don’t expect that to stop manufacturers, retailers and governments from pushing them.

As the debate about climate change and the environment takes on an increasingly alarmist tone, commentators with links to government are already suggesting meat taxes and that governments will have to find ways to “force people to eat less red meat.”

The UK government’s National Food Strategy, a government investigation into the future of food in the UK, recently reported that algae and plant-based meat would have to make up a significant proportion of people’s diets in the UK if the government is to meet its carbon targets.

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