‘You have got to be diverse’ - butchers’ trade stays steady as demand for vegan options grows
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
Butchers in Norwich say trade has stayed strong as the popularity of veganism grows - though customers are looking for meat-free options in a move towards 'flexitarianism'.
Figures from the Vegan Society estimate the number of vegans in the UK has risen from 150,000 to 600,000 in the past four years, while supermarket Waitrose said in October that sales of meat-free products had risen by 85pc over the previous 12 months.
And as a drive encouraging people to go meat-free in January - dubbed Veganuary - continues, retailers have been keen to promote their meat and dairy alternatives.
But butchers in our area say the movement has yet to impact sales - though they have noticed a shift in consumer demand.
Jamie Archer, who runs Archer's Butchers on Plumstead Road, said he had seen more customers favouring flexitarianism - a diet which favours plant-based options but includes meat.
Archer's - founded by Jack Archer, Jamie's grandfather, in 1929 - was last year was named the best butcher in the country at the Meat Management Industry Awards.
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'There has definitely been a shift towards flexitarianism, with customers eating less meat during the week,' he said, 'and enjoying it during the weekend.
'It hasn't been any quieter and we haven't noticed an impact on trade. If anything, Christmas seems to be getting busier. I expected it to be quieter than last year, but it just gets busier every year.
'People seem to want to spend more on good quality produce, but maybe less often.'
He said it was key to be diverse, though, and that the shop had started offering more products for vegetarians and vegans, including nut burgers and roasted vegetable bakes.
'You have got to be diverse,' he said. 'If everyone stopped eating meat, I'd sell vegetables instead. You have to offer what people want.'
And Mr Archer said more customers now took an interest in the quality of their meat and whether it was local.
It was echoed by Hellesdon-based Toombs butchers, where owner Pete said there was more interest in knowing about the provenance of meat.
Mr Toombs agreed that he was yet to notice an impact on trade at the shop - which has been in the community for more than 30 years - as meat-free options became more popular.
'We are still doing the same as last year, and not really seeing an increase or decrease,' he said. 'It is business as usual. You do tend to have quieter Januarys, people try to eat less meat in the new year, maybe because they're thinking of a holiday or have had too much over Christmas, but it tends to pick up again around Valentine's Day.
'It will be interesting to see the impact in five years or so, though.'
Today, many major supermarkets and brands offer vegan and vegetarian ranges, including Marks and Spencer, which launched theirs in December.
Norwich in particular has built up a good reputation among vegan and vegetarian foodies, with a string of well-loved and well-known restaurants and shops, including the Little Shop of Vegans and Bia Kitchen, which last month announced it was to move from its home on the market to find a bigger space where it could offer a larger menu.
But, with vegans estimated to make up roughly 1pc of the population in the UK, a diet with meat and dairy products still appears to be the most common choice.
In January, Vegan Wok takeaway, in Magdalen Street, said its vegan-only menu 'wasn't popular enough to keep going', and said it would relaunch its menu to include some meat dishes.
For Kayleigh Baddeley-Read, who set up vegan artisan bakery Deerly Beloved Bakery in 2011, the change in attitude and available products has been significant.
'I'd been involved with vegan cooking since I was about 18,' she said, 'and started off in a vegan café. It was really niche back then, and was more vegetarian than vegan.
'When I started the business in 2011, I had a lot of people telling me that vegans don't exist in Norwich and that there wasn't a market.'
She said social media had played a major role in making veganism mainstream, with people able to see how it could fit into their lives, search for recipe ideas and find like-minded communities.
'While there are a lot of older people who are vegans, millennials and young people realise that the planet just can't sustain the amount of meat that people eat,' she said.