Can butchers survive the vegan boom?

Who would like to be a butcher at the moment? They are facing challenges from all quarters. 

Global warming is threatening our existence and the meat industry is blamed  for being one of its top contributors, alongside deforestation, and the burning of fossil fuels. Some scientists suggest  “the single biggest way” to save the planet is to go vegan. 

Driven by the conscious decision not only to cut greenhouse gases, but also to end animal cruelty and improve their personal health,  some people do turn to plant-based diets. According to the Vegetarian Society the number of people in the UK who fully maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet is between 2% and 3%. A record number of 500,000 also signed up to this year’s Veganuary campaign, which encourages plant-based eating throughout January. This is double the number of people who pledged to go vegan for a month in 2019. 

We saw a massive increase of vegan foods, too. Tesco, one of the biggest food retailers in the UK, even set itself a target of 300% boost in plant-based sales by 2025 to meet the rising demand.

Tesco set itself a target of 300% boost in plant-based sales by 2025

Flexiatiansim, a diet which encourages the consumption of mainly plant-based foods but allows the casual eating of meat and fish, also became a popular trend.  Flexitarians currently take up 30% of UK’s population the number is likely to rise as there are no rigid rules attached to the diet when it comes to meat consumption. 

So where does all that leave butchers?

According to a research by Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and YouGov, overall awareness about the environmental and the health impacts of eating  red meat have increased significantly. The Office for National Statistics reports there were around 15,000 butchers’ shops in the UK in 1990, a number that declined rapidly by 5,830 in 2019. While some butchers’ shops attribute their closure to the domination of supermarkets, others think veganism played its part too.  

Neil Williams, 45, works in an abattoir in Westen-super-Mare.  He is a second generation butcher who has been in the industry for more than  34 years. Despite the growing popularity of meat-free campaigns, Mr Williams thinks sales remains steady throughout the year and even during Veganuary.

He says: “The trade naturally drops in January. You have the rush-up to Christmas when businesses and hotels have extra people for the holiday period. The trade would always die off from January until Easter when the new season starts and we start getting busy again.”

But Mr Williams  thinks veganism will eventually hit butchers.

He adds: “I can see veganism affecting the meat industry but  it won’t happen overnight. It will be a gradual drop of sales as each person converts their diet. Eventually, there will be fewer animals being killed for food production.”

But the decline in the meat industry can come not only from vegans, but also from laboratories, as lab meat  hits the global market.  Lab meat is produced by in vitro cell culture of animals cells and unlike traditional meat, it has the potential to reduce emissions. It is currently sold only in Singapore due to the slow authorisation process, but cultured meat has the potential to become even more accessible  with production costs falling from £215,000 to just £8 in the last couple of years. 

If you want to learn more about lab meat and the biggest threats to butchers, click on the video below. 

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