EXCLUSIVE FEATURESCOVID-19 pandemic leaves lasting appetite for healthy Vegan diets

COVID-19 pandemic leaves lasting appetite for healthy Vegan diets

While most parts of the UK are now free from restrictions, it’s still hard to believe that we may finally be seeing an end to the Covid-19 pandemic after a rollercoaster two years.

Throughout the pandemic, and the various nation-wide lockdowns, The Vegan Society has been running consumer research to better understand how people’s shopping and eating habits have changed, and what that means for the vegan movement as a whole moving forward. Our latest research from March 2022 – exactly two years on from when Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced working from home measures, social distancing guidelines, and masks – has found that 17% of Brits have actively reduced the amount of meat they’re consuming, while 9% have cut back on dairy and/or eggs.

Three percent say they’ve cut back on both. For the first time this year, the survey also asked respondents about their fish intake, with 6% revealing they’ve cut back on the quantities of seafood they’re buying and consuming, which is highly encouraging. In total that means almost 1 in 4 of us (23%) have minimised the amount of animal products on our plates. When comparing this to our Changing Diets During the Covid-19 Pandemic report from the same time last year, we can see that the number of shoppers cutting back on animal products has remained steady since the pandemic started. This was also prevalent in our initial Covid-19 survey, which ran in April 2020, showing that 1 in 5 Brits had cut down on meat consumption while 15% had reduced their dairy intake.

MOTIVATIONS FOR CHANGE
Vegan dietsWhile the pandemic, Brexit, the costof- living crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine have all been cited as having significant impact on our shopping habits, the top three reasons given for cutting back on animal products in the research results include health concerns (36%), environmental reasons (28%) and animal rights issues (20%). In fact, 12% said it was the cost of animal products that had motivated them to cut back, up from 8% in 2021, while just 3% said it was down to their usual products not being available in shops.

Of course, this all comes as the number of vegans in the UK continues to grow, with Veganuary, the campaign in which people pledge to eat vegan for the month of January, hitting record-highs this year with 629,000 signing up. It also reflects everyday changes in society as veganism becomes mainstream and words such as ‘flexitarian’, ‘meatreducer’ and ‘plant-curious’ have been added to our vocabulary. What’s important is that all three pieces of research show how the events of the last two years have highlighted to shoppers that there are more ethical and compassionate ways we can live – and these days supermarkets are only too happy to provide them. But for those who have cut back, what food products are they popping in their shopping baskets instead?

PULSES AND PLANT-MILKS
Well encouragingly, more and more are trying vegan alternatives for the first time and are in fact enjoying them so much that they see them as the ‘new normal’ as things return to normal. In 2022, 53% of those who have actively cut back on animal products said they had tried meat alternatives over lockdown, such as vegan sausages, burgers, and bacon, with more than three-quarters (78%) stating they will continue to purchase these again in the future. Pulses are also proving popular, with 33% of reducers trying them over lockdown, and 69% planning to repeat the purchase again. Another 20% of reducers told us they tried tofu for the first-time during lockdown, with 61% saying they’ll continue buying it moving forward.

Plant based foods

These figures all reflect similar findings from the 2021 survey, however, it was plant-milks that experienced the most growth with oat, almond and soya milk all proving popular with consumers. In 2021 only 36% of respondents had tried oat milk during lockdown, compared to 48% this time around. Of those too, 67% stated they will continue to purchase it again in the future. It’s a similar story throughout the plant milk category; 40% tried almond milk for the first time, with 63% saying they will continue to purchase it in the future, with 29% giving soya milk a try and 58% planning to purchase it again in the future.

Other interesting findings include 1 in 4 (25%) trying vegan chocolate for the first time, with more than half (52%) looking to buy it again, and 9% giving egg replacements, such as aquafaba or Crackd, a go, with 40% getting it again in future.

WELL-PLANNED DIET
The Vegan Society works with the British Dietetic Association to show those who choose to eat a plant-based diet that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. A well-planned vegan diet includes eating a variety of plant foods, fortified food, and selective supplementation.

Vegan dietsThe UK’s Eatwell Guide encourages us to ‘eat more beans and pulses’ such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, garden peas and butter beans. The 2020 National Diet and Nutrition Survey results show that most people don’t get enough fibre into their diet. Pulses are an important source of fibre as well as protein, zinc, iron, and other minerals and vitamins in a vegan diet. It is helpful to eat these and other iron-rich foods (such as tofu, chia seeds, cashew nuts, dried apricots and figs) with a source of vitamin C.

For example, as we see with our pineapple chana masala, chickpeas are paired with pineapple to increase vitamin C and boost iron absorption. Other examples of foods high in vitamin C that can be paired with rich iron foods are kiwi fruit, peppers and broccoli. Our delicious scrambled tofu breakfast recipe shows how you can combine an iron-rich plant food such as tofu with peppers to boost iron absorption.

POPULARITY OF PLANT-MILKS
Our latest pandemic survey has showed that more and more people are trying plant-based alternatives to dairy milk. Soya milk is a great option as it has more protein per 100ml when compared to oat, rice or almond milk. It’s also important when choosing your plant milk to consider whether it has been fortified with nutrients such as calcium, iodine, vitamin D and vitamin B12. It’s good to be aware that organic plant-based alternatives to milk aren’t fortified. Plant-based alternatives to milk can be used in place of dairy milk in dishes such as porridge, cereal, milkshakes and more. Our breakfast porridge recipe is an excellent example of how nutritious breakfasts can be made using this type of product.

MEAT ALTERNATIVES
Meat alternativesOur survey also showed that more and more of you are trying meat alternatives. Vegan meat alternatives can be a part of a well-planned, balanced vegan diet. They can provide a source of protein, iron, and fibre. However, not all meat replacement products are nutritious, and we need to be mindful of the salt, saturated fat and protein contents. Public health guidance recommends that we eat no more than 6g of salt per day and more than 1.5g of salt per 100g is a high amount. When thinking about saturated fat, more than 5g per 100g means that this food contains a lot of unhealthy fat. If eaten too often, this may lead to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.

Lastly, we encourage you to look for more than 10g of protein per serving and aim to include at least one good source of protein in your meals. Our vegan fishless cakes recipe shows you how you might make your own vegan replicas of a favourite meal whilst utilising good plant protein sources.

For more information on vegan nutrition, visit www.vegansociety.com/nutrition

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