Meat-free gains momentum at Natural Food Show

Whether it’s down to cost, health, animal welfare, environmental factors, or, more recently, labelling and contamination concerns, the meat-free market is continuing to gain sales as more and more consumers regularly reduce their meat intake.

Retailers and buyers wishing to take advantage of this growing trend will find a host of innovative new vegan and vegetarian products for their customers at this year’s Natural Food Trade Show, which returns to London’s Olympia on 7-8 April 2013.

Spurred on by celebrity chef endorsements, greater menu choice when eating out, more new product developments and better visibility in supermarket aisles, there has been a notable shift in consumer attitudes towards going meat-free (if not wholly then in part) and an increased awareness of the benefits that following a more vegetable-based diet can offer. Ongoing revelations about the UK’s food supply chain aside, a 2012 study by research company Mintel estimated that the meat-free market in the UK, currently worth £634m, will reach £800m by 2017. To cater for this demand, the search for natural alternatives to meat, poultry and fish products – as well as eggs, dairy, cheese and honey for vegans – remain a priority for many of the thousands of professional food and drink buyers that visit The Natural Food Show annually.

“Exciting, delicious and nutritious – good vegan-friendly food appeals to just about any customer, which is a key reason why the meat-free sector is so dynamic,” comments Paul Philbrow, trademark & business development officer at The Vegan Society, which will once again be hosting a pavilion at the event. He continues: “Over half of British shoppers now consciously choose meat-free meals. The sector is innovating with inspiring world cuisines, and healthy, sustainable fruits and vegetables will find increasingly wide and diverse audiences in the years to come.”

Vanessa Brown, head of corporate relations at The Vegetarian Society, whose website currently lists over 7500 vegetarian products, agrees: “There’s never been a better time to get into the meat-free sector. It’s all about giving consumers choice and value for money. There is a growing trend to avoid using the term vegetarian when referring to meat-free foods. The motivations for this are clear, but there are also dangers as the core market of vegetarians want to be sure that what they are eating is free from slaughter by-products, as well as more obvious animal ingredients. For example, a meat-free dish might well include Parmesan, but a vegetarian one should not.”

Supported by both the UK’s Vegetarian Society and The Vegan Society, the Natural Food Show features over 300 natural and organic exhibitors from all over the world; including a wealth of vegan, vegetarian and free-from producers (some of whom are also Halal and Kosher certified). This year’s attendees will benefit from seeing a host of returning big names like 100% vegan Redwood Wholefood Company, with its gourmet burgers, pizza, pasties, ‘fish’ cakes, and Parmesan-style cheese; vegetarian convenience food specialist Amy’s Kitchen; Essential Trading Co-operative – suppliers of brands like Dragonfly Foods’ 100% organic beany burgers; Gourmet Raw; and Zest Foods; specialist wholesalers Suma – home to 3000+ lines of vegan products including Cresson Creative Foods’ handmade watercress burgers, pure dairy free, Fry’s Vegetarian UK, and Free & Easy ready meals; and Germany’s TOPAS Klaus Gaiser, founders of the popular Wheaty brand, who’ll be exhibiting within the show’s Vegan Society Pavilion.

Also exhibiting within the Vegan Society Pavilion this year are The Raw Chocolate Company; Happy Kitchen Foods; The Field Roast Grain Meat Company from the USA, whose retail and foodservice range include sausages, frankfurters, roast loaves, cutlets, and deli slices; and GOOD Hemp, creators of natural hemp seed products, packed with protein, essential amino acids, fibre and Omega-3. Plus, first time exhibitors Eco Vegan Shoes; Lucy Bee, with its nutritious extra virgin fair trade organic coconut oil made from organically-grown coconuts; German vegan wholesaler Veganic Bikopi; and Viotros SA from Greece – the largest producer of vegetable cheese in Southeast Europe.

With many producers now developing products that fit into several categories, many vegan and vegetarian ranges at the show are also suitable for consumers avoiding common allergens – such as egg, gluten, milk/lactose, nuts/peanuts, sesame and soya. Clearspring; Lucy’s; Orgran Free From Foods; granoVita UK; Carley’s of Cornwall; Rainbow Wholefoods; Cofresh; Four Sigma Foods (who’ll be introducing the world’s first mushroom-based caffeine-free instant beverages); Nosh – The Raw Smoothie (exhibiting within the show’s new Raw Food Pavilion); Windmill Organics Pulsin’; Plamil Foods, The Booja Booja Company; and Norfolk-based Hodmedod’s, with its sustainably-sourced range of British pulses; are just a selection of 2013 exhibitors who tick many (although not necessarily all) of the free-from boxes.

“More and more people are finally realising time is running out. Health is deteriorating, the planet is facing catastrophe, and meat manufacturers are having to either get more chemically ingenious, or take shortcuts that result in health risks to keep the price down,” warns vegan food writer and campaigner Tony Bishop-Weston, who will be sharing his views and culinary skills in this year’s Natural Food Kitchen.

The food industry needs to change the way it operates, Bishop-Weston explains: “If we want to survive on this planet we really don’t now have a choice, we must eat significantly more plant foods. Even McDonald’s and KFC are looking at how they can incorporate new meat-free alternatives into their main products. Any new UK legislation to counteract the horse meat fiasco will further increase costs, which will make meat free even more tempting for shareholders.”

“Following a meat free diet is no longer difficult or inconvenient,” says chef Jay Morjaria, founder of Sutra Kitchen Vegetarian & Vegan Cooking School in London, who will also be making his debut appearance in this year’s Natural Food Kitchen. “I believe that the future is looking extremely positive both for national health and the environment as the benefits of this meat free lifestyle spread,” he concludes.

The Natural Food Show, which includes two days of live cookery demonstrations in the Natural Food Kitchen, will take place on 7-8 April 2013 at Olympia London. The show is part of Natural & Organic Products Europe, which also includes Natural Beauty & Spa, Natural Living and Health & Nutrition sections.

The event is free to attend for pre-registered trade visitors and relevant press representatives. To register please visit quoting priority code NPE1328.

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Jim Manson is editor of Natural Newsdesk, former editor-in-chief of Natural Products Global (whose influence and audience grew steadily under his editorship) and former editor of Natural Products News, a position he held for 16 years. A regular speaker, presenter and awards host at conferences and trade shows in the UK and across Europe, he has also written for national newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, Financial Times, The Times and Time Out.