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This content is hosted by Agri-TechE as part of its service to its members. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individual/organisation that supplied the content and not those of Agri-TechE or its employees.

The plant-based sector is on a growth trajectory in the UK – but can this be sustained? Is the regulatory and policy environment set to support the expansion of alternative proteins?

Lexington’s report, Planting the future: A moment of change for UK food, explores the explosion in popularity of the plant-based sector in recent years, against a backdrop of increased concern about public health and the environment. It highlights that the UK is well-placed to become a hotbed for food innovation, especially as the Government exercises post-Brexit freedoms to diverge from Brussels on agri-tech regulation. With the Government committed to reaching Net Zero by 2050, decarbonising agriculture and rethinking our relationship from farm to fork will be critical. According to Henry Dimbleby, “the food sector’s emissions represent just under 20% of everything we produce” in this country – making now a pivotal moment.

Yet as the report shows, the plant-based sector is operating in a complex, heavily-politicised environment. The UK will be heavily influenced by what is happening in other countries, especially Europe; meanwhile questions about sustainability, healthy diet and the economic viability of our farming sector are only going to get more pertinent. And the research sounds a note of caution, warning that the debate around diet has become increasingly politicised. YouGov polling commissioned for the report found the Conservatives’ core vote is unlikely to be persuaded to switch from meat, with 48% of those voters never doing so and two thirds opposed to any kind of meat tax. There is a knowledge gap in what level of dietary change is needed (a reduction of 20% in meat and dairy by 2030 according to the Committee on Climate Change) and widely differing levels of enthusiasm across different age-groups and regions.

What’s clear is that the UK could become a global leader in this innovation if conditions remain favourable. In addition to a raft of smaller companies, like THIS, Heck, Hoxton Farms and Moving Mountains Foods, and established businesses like Quorn, traditional manufacturers and retailers are getting skin in the game, seeing offering plant-based brands as desirable to consumers and a point of differentiation. As businesses expand into this sector, significant innovation to develop products of high quality and taste will be needed to meet customer expectation, potentially supported by regulatory divergence from the EU.

The report has been covered by The Times and the i, while Lexington’s Responsible Business Chair and former MP Mary Creagh has written for the Independent about the dangers of this becoming a ‘culture war’ issue. It makes a series of recommendations, calling on plant-based producers to:

  • Clarify and evidence sustainability and nutrition claims, and factor in the broader supply chain picture, including the climate impacts of getting products from factory to plate.
  • Acknowledge sustainable meat production and support a hybrid diet to avoid a polarised debate. Meat producers must avoid stoking the fire, and acknowledge that plant-based food will play an increasingly key role in the UK food sector.
  • Engage with Government and parliament, including devolved bodies, including via more effective, coordinated engagement by representatives of the sector in the UK.

For more information about the research please contact Jennifer.lipman@lexcomm.co.uk