21 Oct 2019

Rising to the Plant-based Protein Challenge

It seems that you cannot open up a magazine, newspaper or online media report without hearing of yet another food scare regarding red meat. The latest study published by Oxford Academic’s International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that even staying within the department of health guidelines for eating red and processed meat still increases the risk of bowel cancer. This is the latest in a long line of reports which appear to demonise meat consumption. While I am not suggesting that such studies should be ignored, it is important to see the whole picture and to appreciate the importance of balanced reporting. On my drive into work I heard that pork scratchings are being lauded as a new superfood for 2019 when previously the received wisdom appeared to be that they were just about the unhealthiest food you could put into your body. 

A study has shown that two-thirds of all the fat in a pork scratching are mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health. So, this serves to illustrate the importance of a healthy (forgive the pun) level of scepticism – we all remember the warnings a few years ago regarding the health implications of eating butter, which
ignored the issue of trans fats in the supposedly healthier spread alternatives. Whatever the validity or otherwise of the reports on red meat, they have undoubtedly been a contributory factor in the rise of products which offer meat alternatives. Again the media is full of articles highlighting the increasing trends towards vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as the advent of the ‘flexitarians’ who eat a mainly plant-based diet and the ‘reducetarians’ who are committed to eating less meat. Growth in plant-based alternatives
According to NHS estimates more than 1.2 million people in the UK are vegetarian while a YouGov survey proposed that 25% of people in Britain have cut back on the amount of meat they eat. A survey by comparethemarket.com suggests there has been a significant spike in the number of people in the UK who have gone vegan since 2016, with more than 3.5 million British people now identifying themselves as such. The discrepancies between the NHS and the comparethemarket survey figures serve only to highlight the caution we should adopt when dealing with statistics and surveys – just ask the pollsters from the last General Election and the Brexit vote! Trends such as Veganuary (going vegan for January) have fed into these statistics, with the BBC reporting that more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian and that 7% of Britons
have gone plant-based. Meat, fish and poultry sales largely unaffected. However, as is the case with most statistics, like the response to health studies, it is important to look at the whole picture to get a more representative and balanced appreciation of the actual position. While the supposed demise of the meat industry makes for great headlines, the reality is somewhat different. Despite all the press coverage regarding Veganuary, data gathered by Kantar Worldpanel for the 12 weeks to 27 January 2019 showed no volume fall year on year or meat, fish and poultry (MFP).  The consumption of meatfree products is rising at an unprecedented rate with meat seemingly the enemy. Processors need to
understand the underlying reasons for this growth so that meat remains on the menu,

Originally posted in:

June 2019 Food & Drink Technology magazine, Bell Publishing