Customers say they are buying less animal products as a result of the coronavirus lockdown

In the wake of the Cornavirus, more consumers are questioning the link between our commercialised relationship with animals and the rise in infectious diseases. 

But with the World Health Organisation and NHS doctors also advocating people move towards a plant-based diet, how is this impacting buying behaviour?

A survey conducted by The Vegan Society has found that 1 in 5 UK consumers cut down on meat consumption during the Coronavirus pandemic. The survey also found 15% have reduced their general animal product intake including eggs and dairy during the lockdown period.

Although this can, in part, be attributed to less availability of foodstuff during the early days of the pandemic, only 40% of the 1,000 consumers polled gave this as a reason, with ‘health reasons’, ‘animal rights’ and ‘environmental’ making up the majority of the rest of the responses.

Combine this with the open letter from more than 200 NHS doctors and staff to the UK Government urging them to make radical changes to the current unsustainable and unhealthy food system. In this letter, they say that “this [food system] has added to the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic death toll” and call for a tax on industrial animal farming and “subsidies to support the UK population in adopting a predominantly whole food plant based diet for both human and planetary health.”

The open letter from NHS staff, calling for support to help move the UK population to a predominantly plant based diet.

This is a significant change in tone. There have been some very high-profile campaigns from charities such as Viva!, highlighting that 3 in 4 of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases have come from consuming animals or animal agriculture, and ethical consumers in general are becoming more aware of this link. However, recent lobbying moving from the third sector (charities and not-for-profit) to the public sector is a significant step with the World Health Organisation’s official guidance for a healthy lifestyle now recommending eating “a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plants, rather than animals.”

What does this mean for food producers?

As parts of the world are slowly starting to emerge from lockdown there is a real desire – from both public and Governments – to stop something like this happening again. Consumers have had an unprecedented time of reflection and learning, and with all supermarkets now promoting their own plant-based alternative lines the first steps towards meat and dairy reduction doesn’t seem as daunting as it was several years ago.

And this is important. The vast majority of consumers are not looking to give up meat and dairy entirely, but a 2018 study showed that a quarter of evening meals in UK households were already meat-free and the recent pandemic will only have increased this percentage.

It is obvious that the pandemic and lockdown have brought forward the plant-based sector by at least 12 months, if not more. And companies who were planning to slowly move their offerings towards plant-based alternatives may well be caught out by the huge rise in demand as the world opens back up for business. Quick service restaurants, famous brand lines and even institutions such as the British Navy are being lobbied from within to move towards plant-based food and nutrition.

Lisa Fox says:

This was originally an article we published on our vegan consultancy website as a comment on the Coronavirus lockdown and how it’s impacted on what people are buying.  But it also means that coming out of lockdown, there are going to be lots of new opportunities for vegan products and services – especially those aimed at the ‘veg-curious’ or people looking to make their first steps towards plant-based.

That might be ‘like-for-like’ products, such as plant-based versions of everyday foods; or it might be services that educate people right at the start of their journey to help them along.

Either way, now is a great time to have a vegan business!

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