Should plant-based products be sold alongside meat?

Date : 08 December 2022

Lizzy McHugh

Health and Sustainable Diets Associate

With the end of the year and Veganuary fast approaching, Healthy and sustainable diets associate, Lizzy McHugh explores industry efforts to reduce meat intake in the UK.

According to world renowned National Diet and Nutrition Survey, in the UK meat intake reduced between 2008 and 20191. More recent IGD ShopperVista data shows that between 2018-2022 the number of shoppers claiming to be following, or interested in, a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet has remained broadly flat year-on-year, with little change in any of the diets2. Growth of plant-based sales should however still be expected as more reduce their meat spending without actively defining themselves as in one of these categories.

To improve heath and sustainability outcomes across the food system, research on how to promote diets based on more plants has increased. This article summarises research in store, online and in the out of home environment.

Barriers to purchasing plant-based products

Research has shown that although meat-eaters recognise the ethical and environmental challenges around eating meat, there are barriers to switching. Many perceive plant-based products as being inconvenient to prepare, expensive compared to meat products or not as tasty3,4.

Retail trials on placement

Theory suggests that focussing on price and placement are key to shifting consumers from meat to plant-based products. In IGD’s 2021 Appetite for Change report 57% participants strongly agreed that moving products into the meat aisle would make it easier for them to consumer healthier and more sustainable diets.

Multiple real-life trials now support this:

  • Tesco’s and another UK retailer, who had previously merchandised plant-based products away from the meat aisle both, separately, trialled moving their plant-based products into a dedicated bay within the meat aisle5,11. They both found that sales of plant-based alternatives increased, with no reduction in meat purchases.
  • Using a segregated bay is important. Asda trialled merchandising plant-based products directly alongside meat within the aisle (i.e. plant- based sausages next to pork sausages). This led to a 30% reduction in sales of those products compared to stores ranging the products in a segregated bay within the meat aisle. For further details see IGD’s October Driving Change report.
  • In a European study vegetarian curry spread, minced meat spread and vegetarian sausages were moved alongside their meat equivalents as well as remaining in their original fixing. Sales went up initially but did not continue once the trial ended.
  • Belgian retailer Colruyt ran an intervention where they ranged vegetarian spreads next to dairy spreads & butters to target flexitarian consumers. Before the intervention, both products were sold in different locations within the store. This nudge resulted in the doubling of the share of vegetarian spreads sold compared to their counterpart.

Learnings and new activations

Placing meat-free products in the meat aisle but within a separate, marked bay seems to be an effective way to increase sales in these products. However, activations should also attempt to tackle other barriers to purchase, such as price, perceived taste, and convenience.

To reach individuals looking to reduce their meat consumption, but not following a vegan or vegetarian diet, Tesco’s have in some stores ranged blended products (e.g. burgers and mince which contain a mix of meat and vegetables/pulses) in a designated bay within the meat aisle. They’ve also ensured prices of these products are appealing to customers, with 12 beef meatballs costing £3 and 12 blended meatballs just £2.25.

Image Source: IGD research

A social movement - Veganuary

During January there is a concentrated effort by the charity Veganuary to get consumers to pledge to eat vegan throughout the month. A large amount of marketing and social media campaigns, as well as new product launches drives this. More than 1540 new vegan products and menus were launched during January 2022 and over 629,000 people signed up to the 2022 campaign7.

Researchers from the University of Surrey analysed sales of both plants-based products and meat products during and after Veganuary 2021 in a UK retailer who engaged with the campaign. The affordability, availability and visibility of the products increased. Sales of plant-based products increased by 57% during the intervention, and elevated sales of 15% were maintained after the intervention6. Increases in sales were strongest in low-income areas, suggesting again that making plant-based products affordable and accessible is key to driving demand. Interestingly sales of meat did not change during Veganuary, suggesting households may have bought additional products rather than switching. This may lead to unintended consequences such as over-consumption or food waste.

Out of home

When Pret a Manger separated out their Veggie Pret offering in stores, sales of those products fell8. Similarly, in an online based test restaurant menus had the best virtual sales of vegetarian products when they listed them amongst the regular menu10. In fact, the study showed that separating them might even be off-putting to those that considered themselves frequent consumers of vegetarian dishes. Separating out products based on whether they contain meat or seems to be off-putting to out of home consumers. Barriers such as Price or convenience to prepare may also be less important to consumers when eating out of the home.

Image Source: Getty Images

Opportunities for future research

Further research needs to continue to break down the barriers that shopper perceive to increasing their consumption of plant-based foods. Further interventions need to explore ways to ensure consumers know plant-based foods are convenient, affordable and taste good.

Sharing research and best practice is key. To find out more about IGDs work on healthy and sustainable diets, or to share learnings from your activations please get in touch: [email protected]


2. IGD ShopperVista Research: Plant-based shoppers in 2022
9. Schlee, C. (2017). (no longer accessible)