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Eddie Gillanders: Meat and dairy products enjoying a resurgence

By Eddie Gillanders

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The irrational fad of consumers moving away from meat and dairy products seems to be on the wane judging by the decline in sales of both meat-free and dairy-free alternatives inVeganuary.

Figures show Veganuary didn't have the same impact this year.
Figures show Veganuary didn't have the same impact this year.

According to research by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) and the leading independent consultants, Kantar, over a million fewer households bought meat-free products in January compared to last year and 280,000 fewer households bought dairy-free.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, of course, but it does indicate that some of those who adopt a high moral stance when turning vegetarian or vegan are ready to quit when it starts hitting their pockets.

At the beginning of January, seven per cent of shoppers said they were committed to taking part in Veganuary. But in the event, despite heavy instore promotions and an array of new product offers, sales of meat-free products in January fell by 12.9 per cent and dairy free by 2.6 per cent.

By the middle of the month, 70 per cent had returned to their normal diets with 40 per cent claiming the alternative was too expensive and another 40 per cent saying they were struggling to find vegan food and drink they enjoyed.

This softening in demand for dairy and meat alternatives, the researchers claim, isn’t new to 2023 and was happening throughout last year.

Consumer insight manager, Grace Randall, has been closely following the trend.

“Interest in meat and dairy-free alternatives has started to peter off, with Google searches now half that of ‘peak vegan’ in 2019,” she said.

“Taste and affordability remain the primary issues for consumers.”

Ms Randall added: “Meat, fish and poultry is around 10 per cent cheaper than their vegan alternatives while cow’s milk is on average £0.50 per litre less expensive than dairy alternatives and both are unrivalled in their nutritional offering in a healthy balanced diet.”

So what has triggered this apparent massive reversal in consumer trends, given the huge amounts of money being invested by big business in meat and milk alternatives?

Fortunately, more scientists and health specialists are now speaking out against those who have been making farcical and wrong claims about the health benefits of a non-meat diet.

More evidence is coming to the fore that meat and dairy are beneficial to health, rather than the opposite, particularly for children and young girls.

The farming industry is also getting better at presenting its case, although obviously biased, but so long as farmers stick to the science they are on safe ground.

A recent survey has demonstrated that the public think highly of farmers for keeping the nation fed and TV personality turned farmer, Jeremy Clarkson, is doing a tremendous job in highlighting how difficult the job is, not only because of the physical and business challenges but the frustrations of government bureaucracy, even although he is a pretty incompetent farmer himself (by his own admission).

There is a general acceptance that farmers look after their livestock well, as they have to do to run an efficient and profitable farming enterprise, despite the occasional example of bad husbandry which always hits the headlines but is rightly dealt with severely by the courts.

What farming needs, and ultimately consumers too, is more support from supermarkets and a bit less of the irresponsible and insulting comments made recently by John Allan, the chairman of Tesco, that food producers are taking advantage of the poor in society by pushing up food costs.

This from a company which is quick to increase prices when costs go up and slow to reduce them when costs are falling. Does he think farmers are not facing increased costs like everyone else at the present time?

The squeeze on farm-gate prices by supermarkets is one of the main reasons for the decline in the Scottish beef herd and supermarkets are now reaping the inevitable consequences with the current shortage of beef on the market and soaring prices, not forgetting the farmers forced out of business.

Fortunately, farmers now have an alternative market again and it’s encouraging that the value of UK red meat exports is at its highest level since records began at £1.7 billion last year – a 22 per cent increase on 2021.

Beef and sheep farmers should not feel despondent – consumers both at home and abroad still want to eat the high quality beef and lamb produced in Scotland.

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