Changing eating habits and the high street
The UK high street is changing. Consumer habits are shifting, prompted by tightening purse strings, environmental factors and the growth of online marketplaces. From department stores to toy shops, and fashion brands to supermarkets – the majority of retailers will be feeling the pinch.
One chief reason for the change in behavioural patterns from consumers is the recent emphasis that has been put on the danger to the environment. Quick fashion, a rise in the consumption of meat and the wide use of single-use plastics have all played their part in the worsening state of the planet and now consumers are looking to beat a path to change – starting with what we eat.
New data from Waitrose shows that one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan, whilst a further 21% identify as flexitarian, where a predominantly vegetarian diet is occasionally supplemented with meat. This means that a third of those in the UK have now cut down massively on their meat consumption, something that we can expect to have a knock on effect with food retailers who are too slow to adapt.
Waitrose’s executive chef, Jonathan Moore, commented: “Vegetarianism has grown and evolved. More people dip in and out of it. There was a time when choosing a plant-based diet was about taking an ethical stand based on unwavering principles. For many, this distinction between vegetarians and meat-eaters still exists but for others the lines have blurred.”
The news of changing consumer habits comes at the same time as major British retailer Marks & Spencer announces a fall in sales for the six months to the end of September. The company confirmed that over the period food sales were down 2.9% and clothing and home sales dropped 1.1%.
Whilst Marks & Spencer’s struggles are an effect of “the headwinds from the growth of online competition and the march of the discounters” and a requirement to lower prices to match competitors (rather than being directly linked to availability of products), it is important to learn from its current difficulties as they illustrate the knock on effects of consumers voting with their feet.
The rising popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets is an excellent business opportunity for investors and retailers to get ahead of the game and modify their offering. One such store is Holland & Barrett which recorded a year-on-year rise in sales of 7.1% - thanks, in part, to the growing number of customers looking for plant based products. As a result of this the chain has announced plans to open fully vegan shops as well as to add in excess of 500 vegan food products by the end of 2018.
Nick Palmer, the head of Compassion in World Farming UK in a Guardian article said: “It’s extremely encouraging to learn how many Britons are choosing to reduce their consumption of animal products. Science proves that the healthiest diet is one that is plant-heavy. By eating less meat, fish, eggs and dairy and choosing higher welfare when we do, we can all help animals, people and the planet.”