Over the five years to the end of January 2011, sales rose by nearly 8% to reach a total value of £786.5M.
Despite slow growth of 0.9% in 2010, sales of vegetarian food have been driven both by more people opting for a vegetarian diet and growing numbers reducing their meat consumption.
The researchers noted: “An increase in the number of people choosing to reduce their meat consumption for health reasons following recent studies that have suggested that red meat can cause heart disease, heightened cholesterol and obesity.”
Heart disease, cholesterol and obesity
The popularity of vegetarian food has also been driven by the growing number of vegetarian restaurants in the UK. The researchers note 30 premium vegetarian restaurants now in operation across the country, up by a half compared with 2007.
The improving quality of vegetarian food has played a part too. “Improvements to vegetarian meals and recipe innovations have also made vegetarian meals much more appetising to consumers,” said the researchers.
Consumers were also attracted by “ … additional health benefits, such as a greater vegetable content, and containing ingredients which are lower in cholesterol and fats”.
This followed government concern about the high level of calories in food, which, said the researchers “ … is thought to have propagated rising obesity levels in the UK”.
To encourage dietary changes, government campaigns, such as the five-a-day fruit and vegetable dietary recommendations and Change4Life programme, have been introduced.
The Vegetarian Society has claimed that vegetarians are often less likely to suffer from obesity, coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure and type II diabetes, among other conditions.
In the UK, the Department of Health recommends eating no more than 70g of red meat a day.
Commenting on a Harvard Medical School Study linking red meat to shorter life expectancy, Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Meat Advisory Panel, said “ … red meat provides essential nutrients that are required as part of a healthy balanced diet”.
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