While it’s good to be dining out again, it’s great to know that lockdown Britain has spent the past several months of eating in enjoying a wider selection of meat free and plant-based ready meals than ever before.
A new survey by Eating Better has revealed that the number of vegetarian and vegan products on supermarket shelves has increased substantially since the last time the green alliance counted them in, in 2018.
Published today, its Ready Meals 2020 Snapshot Survey dug through the chilled aisles of 11 retailers, from Aldi to Waitrose, and checked the packaging of 2,404 ready meals. It found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) were either meat free or plant-based – a 33 per cent increase on 2018 – and 16 per cent purely plant-based. Last time that proportion was a miserable 3 per cent.
However, the offerings were not spread evenly across the supermarkets, with some far better at understanding the appetites of British shoppers, who are increasingly interested in healthier, more environmentally friendly food. More than 40 per cent of Ocado’s ready-meals are meat free, for example, compared with just 11 per cent of Iceland’s – although that’s still not to be sniffed at, considering Iceland offered precisely zero meat free ready meals in 2018.
There is still a long way for some to go to answer Eating Better’s call for meat to feature in no more than half of all ready meals, in line with its own “Better By Half” roadmap, launched last summer to encourage a national dietary change for the greener. So far only Ocado – which didn’t feature in the 2018 survey – meets that criteria: 53 per cent of its offerings are meat free or plant-based.
Morrisons, Asda and Aldi have also realised the value of meat free eating, having doubled the size of their meat free ranges, while others risk putting off shoppers by charging too much for them. Out of meat, fish, meat free and plant-based meals, meat free were the cheapest, on average, followed by plant-based – unless you shop at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, in which plant-based is most expensive. Simon Billing, Eating Better’s executive director, urged supermarkets to give the customers what they want: better priced plant-based options, and more of them.
He added that while Britons hungry for a greener option to zap in the microwave had some exciting and tasty choices before them, “you’re still going to have to hunt around to find plant-based options”.