There has been a significant rise in the number of people living a vegan lifestyle in the UK in recent years. Research by comparethemarket.com puts the number of vegans in the UK at 3.5 million (alongside 7 million vegetarians).
With numbers like this, and the ever-growing presence of vegan diets and the number of famous vegan advocates rising, you can be forgiven for assuming that the vegan diet is going to be the next big thing. But I don’t think it will be, and I’m going to try and explain why I believe that the flexitarian diet will be the biggest healthy eating trend by 2019.
Who are the flexitarians?
A flexitarian diet is a plant-based diet with the occasional addition of meat. Flexitarians are also known as flexible vegetarians, casual vegetarians or vegivores. Quite simply, there are no rules about the amount of animal products one consumes. Some flexitarians will have a meat-free meal once a week while others will only eat meat on rare occasions.
This clearly doesn’t align with the vegan ethos, which is a strict abstinence from all animal produce, predominantly due to animal welfare issues. A good flexitarian, however, strives to buy less meat and chooses organic or free range meat where the animals have been raised to higher standards of welfare. As Western society becomes more conscious of the unfavourable meat market and strain of farming on the environment, why aren’t we all following a vegan diet?
Vegan vs. flexitarian
It’s no secret that some people find vegans annoying. Ethically-motivated vegetarians and vegans in particular are often the target of ridicule and viewed as smug, self-righteous extremists. Vegans have done themselves an injustice in recent years, with a lot of their core message being lost to violent propaganda, outright lies and their smug exterior.
One of the better known vegan organisations, PETA, had reports circulated last year by many sources that they euthanize thousands of animals that are given to their Norfolk, Virginia facility to be re-homed. This is not the first time PETA has received backlash due to their reported hypocrisy, and these kinds of stories do little to validate the sincerity of vegans and fuels the disdain many of them face.
There seems to be a safe middle ground by labelling yourself a flexitarian. By consuming vegan products in tandem with ethically sourced meats, you’re consciously helping animal welfare and the environment, yet are less likely to receive the backlash and dreaded “bacon is life” conversation every vegan is invariably engaged in by meat-eaters.
Retailers use plant-based alternatives to win customers
In an attempt to re-focus the agenda, the term ‘plant-based’ is becoming more prevalent. Tesco are adopting this approach by partnering with Co-founder of Wicked Healthy, Derek Sarno. Derek has been brought on board as Tesco’s Executive Chef and Director of Plant-Based Innovation, describing his role with Tesco as “driving unpretentious plant-based innovation”.
Retailers have a unique opportunity to capitalise on this trend and many major retailers have already pledged to expand their plant-based lines. A quick win to tempt those seeking vegan products would be to clearly advertise which everyday products, already on the shelves, are a viable option to eat.
Clearly there is a huge motivation for retailers to begin looking at even more vegan and meat-free products to appeal to consumers looking for ethical, healthy, animal-free alternatives. This can be capitalised on even further with the reinvigoration of organic and locally sourced meats to satisfy the budding flexitarians among us.
Imagine, if you will, walking in to your local Co-op and picking up a recipe card which proudly displays a juicy free range, British-reared steak, paired with a glass of their vegan red wine, accompanied with some naturally vegan friendly oven chips. In terms of ethical, healthy eating, you’re checking all the right boxes.
Society plays a huge role in what shapes trends and consumers’ buying habits and I believe this will be a driving force as to why the flexitarian trend will ultimately trump veganism.