Meat and dairy-free diets appear to have stagnated – for now – going by a new report from AHDB which points to reduced sales for plant-based foods in the first month of 2024.

Traditionally known as Veganuary, January 2024 saw greater opportunities for red meat and dairy eaten by consumers as part of a more health-conscious start to the year.

The shift away from meat and dairy free also slipped in January 2023, when sales fell on the previous year. This resulted in some retailers attempting to position plant-based products with health-focused messaging within stores this year, rather than promoting Veganuary 2024 as a standalone occasion according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD).

The cost-of-living crisis can be attributed to a large proportion of the 12.8% and 3.8% year-on-year volume decline for meat and dairy-free products respectively, based on reports from Kantar for the three weeks ending January 21, 2024 and Nielsen for the four weeks ending January 27, 2024.

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This is because meat and dairy-free products are 3.3% and 18.4% more expensive than their animal product competitors respectively.

Furthermore, retailers’ efforts to increase the pick-up of meat-free products during this health-focused month failed when the percentage of baskets with meat-free products fell 0.4% on the year, to 4.1% (Kantar, for the first three weeks to Jan 21, 2024).

According to the report, this indicates that consumers’ interest in meat-free products is waning, despite attempts to market them as healthy following the indulgent Christmas period.

As expected, however, due to retailers focusing on health messaging, volumes for all plant-based dairy products were up for the four weeks of January 2024 (+6.4%) compared to an average four-week period for the 52 w/e January 27, 2024 (Nielsen).

According to The Grocer, just 28% of UK adults attempting Veganuary complete it, and most are unlikely to continue purchasing meat-free products for the rest of the year.

This claims the levy board suggests consumers have a fleeting interest in a meat-free lifestyle, and meat-free products are not a big threat to the meat industry at present.

While it is likely that new plant-based product development will be limited, meat and dairy may still face competition from cheap staple alternative products, like pasta and potatoes.

“Media coverage has recently focused on the negative nutritional values of ultra-processed foods, which is putting many consumers off eating these products,” said Tom Price, retail and consumer insight analyst at AHDB.

“This, alongside slowing inflation and the potential for real wages to grow in 2024, means health is becoming more of a priority for consumers. This provides an opportunity to promote the health benefits of meat and dairy to align with consumer values.”