What Triggers a Plant-Based Diet?

In the UK alone, 64% of people have bought vegan products within the past year… so what gives? From the 1940s, when veganism was founded on protecting animal welfare, to the terrifying facts in the latest IPPC report, there are a lot of reasons people are driven towards a plant-based diet. We’ve explored four key drivers that will continue to trigger shoppers to consume plant-based.

by Bella Ali-Khan | Plant-Based | 28 September 2021

The latest IPCC report clearly states that shifting diets towards a lower share of animal-sourced food, once implemented at scale, would reduce overall greenhouse-gas emissions. 

Animal Welfare

We demand accountability…

Since the first activists came together to fight for animal rights, the vegan lifestyle remains one of the biggest triggers1 for the shift to a plant-based diet. Today, with access to a globalised media, more consumers are aware of animal exploitation, thanks to high-profile, confronting series, such as Netflix’s OkjaSeaspiracy and the soon-to-be-released Eating our Way to Extinction. The rise in interest in the plight of certain species has renewed a sense of empathy, connection and an understanding of the ethical implications of animal product consumption. 

It’s not just the direct treatment of livestock that is concerning, but also the land cleared for this farming. Since 1970, 60% of vertebrate animal populations have declined3 due to the destruction of habitats and natural ecosystems. It’s not lost on consumers that eating animal products also has unethical repercussions for other human beings. Animal agriculture makes up 80% of agricultural land worldwide4. There are more than 780m hungry people on our planet, and most of our agriculture uses land as a resource to feed animals5, which are then consumed in wealthy countries. Today’s consumer is aware of the facts and is increasingly demanding more accountability from their chosen brands, and transparency of ethical behaviour. 

The Planet

Thank you, Greta

As a society we are all being made astutely aware that meat and dairy production is detrimental to the environment. Land and water use for meat and dairy is significantly higher than for plant-based alternatives1, and animal agriculture is responsible for about 14.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions globally2. Plus, the very real impacts of climate change are right there on our doorstep. With the start of 2020 plagued by bushfires and flooding across the globe, it’s hard not to notice3

Overwhelming statistics and these ‘natural’ events are causing a climate-anxiety phenomenon that’s influencing purchasing behaviour, particularly amongst Gen Z4. Consumers are more proactively considerate about where their goods come from, and what it took to get them here. Despite the dramatic news, we are seeing a rise in environmental optimism5, and positive activism (Thank you, Greta!) where people are looking inwards at their own lifestyle choices, and what they can do to lessen their own personal footprint. 

Of course, we can’t forget the man who brought this issue to our attention, and into many of our living rooms:  

The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”  

– Sir David Attenborough


Cleaner living is the new normal 

Whether for health reasons, the desire for self-improvement, or for ‘the gram’, health and wellness continue to grow as key influencers of consumer behaviour. Not even five years ago, ‘going vegan’ was seen as being reductive, but consumers now know there are many health benefits in shifting to a plant-based diet1. The WHO has identified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen2, as it can evidentially increase the risk of cancers3 – tobacco smoking and asbestos are housed in this same category. 

The benefits of avoiding animal products also answers the challenge of the growing number of intolerances within modern society. Many plant-based products satisfy more than just vegan consumers; those with allergies and intolerances, such as gluten and lactose, are also driving demand. Across the UK, people are now reducing their meat intake as part of a broader, clean-living movement4. We have evolved from the craze for large, fad diets, to making smaller, positive choices that form a collective shift towards a healthier lifestyle. 


Goodbye, comfort zone  

COVID-19 has been both a driver of change in consumer behaviour, and an accelerator to act on existing social and environmental issues. Where once people may have shrugged off the intention to make a change, the pandemic pushed health, safety and survival to the forefront of people’s concern. The unexpected time provided by lockdown allowed many the chance to reassess their lifestyle choices and their impact; the Vegan Society revealed that 1 in 5 consumers1 cut back on meat consumption during lockdown.  

In the early days of the pandemic, panic buying and seeking goods with longer shelf lives both contributed to consumers trying new products2. Meat isn’t cheap – and with cutbacks and job losses, many households had to forego their usual steak or sausage nights. On average, vegan meals are 40% cheaper than meat or fish options, and many consumers found that cooking plant-based took less time to prepare3. A brand-new consumer segment was born out of circumstance and necessity, in the space of a year. 

The pandemic will, no doubt, prove to have lasting effects that have helped many step outside their comfort zones and into an innovative, plant-based future. 

The drivers that push consumers to invest in a plant-based diet and surrounding habits are just the beginning of the story. The plant-based trend is opening the doors to new technology, ideas and benchmarks that will have a great influence outside of the category and on all FMCG. To read about the growing trends and our upcoming predictions, see the full report here.  


Animal Welfare
1 – The Vegan Society
2 – https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/139141/plant-based-boom/ 
3 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54118769 
4 – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/16/us/plant-based-meat-has-roots-in-the-1970s.html  
5 – https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2021/03/15/World-s-first-plant-based-steak-marbled-with-sunflower-oil-It-s-not-just-for-aesthetics.-It-behaves-as-marbling-does-in-animal-meat 

The Planet
1 – https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/plant-based-push-uk-sales-of-meat-free-foods-shoot-up-40-between-2014-19 
2 – https://www.peta.org.uk/blog/earth-day-2021-reasons-vegan/ 
3 – https://www.vox.com/22202889/disasters-2020-flood-hurricane-wildfire-australia-california-covid-pandemic 
4 – Future Thinking Report 2019 
5 – WGSM Future Consumer Report (Gen Z) 

1 – https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics/health  
2 – https://www.peta.org.uk/blog/earth-day-2021-reasons-vegan/  
3 – https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2015/processed-meat-cancer/en/ 
4 – https://www.hospitalityandcateringnews.com/2020/12/plant-based-food-to-increase-profits-for-caterers-in-2021/ 

1 – The Vegan Society  
2 – Bread and Jam Plant Based Summit (Holland & Barret) 
3 – Kantar World Panel –  https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2020/12/18/Vegan-meals-cheaper-and-quicker-than-meat-or-fish