Sean Murphy: Growth and popularity of veganism in the UK showing no sign of slowing

From flexitarians to full on vegans, the UK is going crazy for plant-based diets, finds Sean Murphy

Published 8th Jan 2019
Updated 8 th Jan 2019

The recent stramash over the launch of the Greggs vegan sausage roll has accurately highlighted the depth of feeling and interest in this fast ­growing lifestyle choice, as more and more people across the UK ditch meat to embrace a plant-based diet.

As your typical braggarts and media mouthpieces took to their pulpits to denounce the move by what is one of Britain’s most ­ubiquitous high street food vendors, vegetarians and vegans responded by flocking to Greggs up and down the country to get their hands on the highly sought after product.

The launch itself followed what the brand described as “strong ­consumer demand” – including a petition last year which was signed by more than 20,000 people – with chief executive Roger Whiteside, stating that it was their “contribution to Veganuary”.

In the past, the word ‘vegan’ would generally have something of a ­negative connotation to it, often being dismissed as a fad or a ­lifestyle choice too extreme for many to adapt to.

However, the move by Greggs and other mainstream brands such as Nandos, Wagamamas and, perhaps most surprisingly, the Toby Carvery, to embrace the culture has shown how far the movement has come in terms of the mainstream consciousness.

According to a report by vegan website, between 2016 and 2017 plant-based food sales in the UK increased by 1,500 per cent and the global meat-alternative food market is predicted to grow to just over £4 billion by 2020.

A spokesperson for online ­gardening product specialists ­Compost Direct stated that grow your own veg bags are becoming more popular as people seek to take control of their own ingredients with vegetables, herbs, fruits and even beans appearing in gardens around ­Britain.

Research by the Vegan ­Society regarding veganism in the UK revealed that 19 per cent of adults have cut down on buying meat and regularly vet cosmetics and ­toiletries for animal testing while a further 13 per cent actively choose meat-free or dairy-free meals when eating out.

Add to that the fact that over half (51 per cent) of those surveyed were happy to see vegan food in shops and restaurants, and it paints a vivid picture of how popular a trend it’s becoming. Perhaps because of this, the mindset towards vegans has drastically improved, with 43 per cent of ­people saying that they respected vegans for their principled lifestyle.

Similarly, there’s been sharp growth in the trend for becoming ‘flexitarian’ with many ­people becoming more mindful of the ­benefits of cutting down on meat consumption while trying vegan alternatives to traditional meals on set nights of the week.

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Looking at the results of 2018’s Veganuary, a movement that ­challenges people to sign up for a month of vegan eating in January, the top reason for people signing up was animal rights concerns (43 per cent). This was followed by 39 per cent of people who signed up for health reasons, and 10 per cent who said it was for environmental ­reasons.

But, perhaps the reason for going vegan is something a little more vain, suggests the Independent, which noted in a recent report that the increase in Google searches for the word ‘vegan’ has grown in line with internet searches for ­‘Instagram’.

In a world where we love to take photos of our meals and share them on social media, it’s not difficult to believe that Instagram may have helped a little with the lifestyle’s growing popularity.

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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