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Re-imagining Sustainability: The Plant-Based Revolution

Over recent years, sustainability has become a key item on a CEO’s agenda. Almost half of UK consumers claim that the impact on the environment is important to them when making food choices. We are on the cusp of a strong shift in consumer behaviour – one that presents a challenging tension and requires retailers to adapt. Indeed, the consumer shift we are seeing currently is now undoubtedly feeding through to influencing consumer behaviour and spending. According to Nielsen (The Times, 2020), 2019 saw a decline in the sales of red meat, more than any other category, in UK supermarkets, down by £125m

Buying behaviour is increasingly influenced by ethical, environmental and health factors, leading to a rise in veganism, a new tribe called ‘flexitarians’ and other plant-based diets. As a result, the food industry is innovating – providing customers with alternative options and being more transparent in the ingredients, sourcing and packaging of food and beverages. 

Q5 spoke to a ‘flexitarian’ who told us how her lifestyle change started over a year ago after becoming more informed of the environmental implications of producing and consuming meat on a regular basis. Alongside this change, recycling has become a no-brainer, and she’s made a conscious effort to reduce her plastic consumption and buy fair trade products by shopping in local groceries and markets. Climate change, animal welfare and health concerns are big reasons why she made this shift.

What's changing?


The power is in the hands of the consumer.

The shift to plant-based eating has largely been fuelled by consumers seeking more variety and flexibility in their diets to support their concerns with sustainability. Consumers have become more concerned by the health benefits behind what they consume and they want to have an open dialogue with food companies about where their products comes from – they want to be part of the journey. Oatley – a vegan, plant-based milk alternative – has printed its origin, vision, purpose and production process all over its carton, addressing the ethical concerns of its consumers.



There is more and more disruption in the market.

Supermarkets and restaurants are building new product lines and are launching their own-label vegan range, often testing them with their existing customer base.

Famously, Greggs’ responded to the rise in veganism with a vegan sausage roll launched early January 2019, causing a sensation with customers. Tesco’s launched ‘Wicked Kitchen’ in 2018 – an exclusive range of ready-made plant-based meals and food to go options –, and McDonald’s released its new ‘McVegan’ burger last year. Meanwhile, larger food companies have been involved in increased M&A activity by partnering with disruptor food brands or by acquiring smaller start-ups. Impossible Burgers are currently dominating shelf space with a plant-based ‘bleeding’ burger in Sainsbury’s, and Unilever purchased Vegetarian Butcher in 2018. There is an expectation that M&A deals in the food industry will continue to grow as new product development and plant-based alternatives as seen the norm.



The relationship between food companies and consumers is now direct.

Direct to consumer (D2C) models have become increasingly prevalent in the market, allowing large food producers to listen, learn and build direct relationships with their consumers. Products are aligning with consumers expectations and behaviours better, leading the way for a more personalised experience through online channels and social media.

Disruptor brands such as Allplants and Daily Harvest have kickstarted a subscription model with healthy, plant-based, frozen and ready to eat meals delivered to a consumer’s doorstep. To make this successful, Daily Harvest’s website allows visitors to read about each product, see the key ingredients, nutrition information and preparation instructions while exchanging reviews.


What’s next?

At Q5, we believe that sustainability plays a critical role for an organisation’s success. Changing consumer choices means that organisations need to maintain a constant state of evolution. In order to stay relevant, we recommend for businesses to frequently review their business models and long-term strategy, create a purpose with a positive impact and shape teams to anticipate the trends of tomorrow.

If this is of interest, please get in touch and we can share more on how to make it happen.