Our Thoughts

Veganism takes centre stage as retailers capitalise on the conscious consumer

The world has become a much more accepting and friendly place for vegans. Once seen as the awkward diner, lifestyle fanatic and culinary extremist, the ‘plant based’ activists among us are no longer condemned to the fringes of society.

Veganism, as explained by The Vegan Society is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

With an abundance of alternatives now available in nearly every supermarket chain and mainstream high street restaurant, there is a renewed sense of accessibility to vegan food. The fact that people are now able to give up meat and dairy without fundamental changes to their lifestyles has enticed many into embracing the trend.

The recent plethora of vegan restaurant openings, offering exciting and fresh fare, has meant that even adamant meat-eaters can take the plunge into plant based nutrition without having to sacrifice taste or enjoyment.

Mockery aside, the numbers don’t lie; veganism has become the one of the UK’s fastest growing movements. Studies by the Vegan Society found that the number of people identifying as ‘vegan’ has increased by 360% since 2006, with now over half-a-million Britons leading a completely animal-free lifestyle. According to Kantar Worldpanel, one in ten shoppers bought meat-free meals during the first month of 2018.

Amplified awareness of the positive impact on sustainability, health and animal welfare has been key to the strong growth of the movement, in part fuelled by several extreme documentaries such as Netflix’s ‘What the Health’, and by celebrity endorsements. An increased presence on social media has reached so-called Millennials, who now make up almost half of total vegans in the UK.

So how has this affected the UK and London F&B markets? Certainly, we have seen an influx of restaurants open in 2017 and early 2018 offering 100% vegan menus.
London in particular has seen a wealth of new openings. Temple of Seitan, a new addition to the Camden and Hackney fast food markets, offers diners a plant based burger under the guise of a fried ‘chicken’ slider. In South West London, Picky Wops, a Vegan approved pizzeria in the heart of Fulham, offers doughy delights that even a native Italian would be proud to take home.

One of London’s renowned veggie restaurants, Mildreds, is also striving to cater to the modern day vegan, now serving a ‘Moving Mountains’ B12 burger. The burger, inspired by companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, uses entirely vegan ingredients to smell, taste and even bleed like a sizzling beef patty.

We have also seen new arrivals from the US, where fast, casual vegan dining has flourished. By CHLOE, whose first store opened in Manhattan in 2015, recently opened a store in Covent Garden, its first overseas location, and has now announced a second eatery to open in Tower Bridge. Wulf & Lamb, another US export, also selected the UK for its first overseas site, opening on Sloane Square in November 2017.
The growth of veganism has highlighted the importance of organisations implementing some strategic ‘veganizing’ of their businesses, with alternative menus now becoming a familiar sight in most high street chain restaurants. A 2016 study by Statista covering the UK’s leading restaurant chains highlighted just how prominent the change has become

The majority of the 30 leading restaurant chains, including Pizza Express and Wagamamas, now have separate vegan menus. All 30 restaurants offer at least one vegan option. Traditional carnivorous havens such as Nandos, Harvester and Toby Carvery have recreated their menus and now offer multiple vegan alternatives. Even fast food and grab-and-go café chains have evolved – Pret a Manger opened its third ‘Veggie Pret’ store in Exmouth Market in late 2017 after experiencing strong traction from its initial Soho store.

However, veganism is a lifestyle and not just a diet, with its influence extending in to the wider high street and retail market, through ethical fashion brands such as Patagonia, Finisterre and Veja.

The former has witnessed an extremely positive reaction to its business mantra, which encourages not only very high quality clothing design, but also clothing recycling, in order to counteract the mountains of clothing sent to landfill each year.

Evidence of changing behaviour has even spread into the most traditional of sectors – car manufacturing. Tesla has made massive strides in promoting sustainability within its production of luxury electric cars. However, they have more recently taken this to another level, introducing ‘vegan faux-leather’ interior options which cater for the hyper-ethical Tesla buyer.

The UK consumer is also faced with an abundance of cosmetics and toiletries visibly emblazoned as ‘vegan friendly’. These range from everyday brands such as Original Source, to cosmetic brands such as Kat Von D Beauty. The latter brand, sold exclusively in Debenhams on Oxford Street, has introduced a #veganalert range of animal by-product free products and announced future plans to transform its entire cosmetics line to ensure every product is vegan friendly.

Will veganism continue to blossom or will the trendy fad soon lose its cool? The explosion of the movement has most definitely raised awareness amongst the UK consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of excess consumption on sustainability and the environment. Its therefore likely that an increasing number of retailers will look to capitalise on the trend in the coming year and that the movement could start to become more visible within the West End market, with openings of not just vegan, but environmentally-aware brands.


Read more about the latest trends in the London retail market in our Central London Retail Report.