Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

Vegetarianism has come a long way since the 1990s, as this exploration of the Archive of Market and Social Research shows.

Nowadays, famous chefs offer recipes for delicious vegetarian Christmas dishes (e.g. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Fab feast for vegan and vegetarians’ in The Times); smart restaurants provide excellent vegetarian options and special vegetarian menus as a matter of course, and supermarket shelves groan with plant-based produce and mass-produced ready-to-eat vegetarian dishes. There are estimated to be more than 600,000 vegans in Britain. Vegetarianism is now mass-market – a long journey for ‘The lonesome vegetarian’ described in a 1990s Survey article.

The Winter 1990 edition of Survey, which can be explored in the Archive, was a special issue on ‘Food and Drink’. It included an article by Barrie Hawker of Business & Market Research plc entitled ‘The Lonesome Vegetarian’. His company set up a panel of 600 vegetarians which was used to tap and track their interests and eating behaviour. Qualitative and quantitative studies using this panel indicated that they were largely ignored by manufacturers and retailers, and the restaurants they used tended to be Southern Indian and other cultures which catered to vegetarian dietary laws. The research also pointed to a strong link between vegetarianism and environmentalism.

TGI data in the Archive helps illustrate the journey we have made as consumers since then. In 1992, 6% of us said that our diet was mainly vegetarian. By 2019, 17% claimed to prefer eating vegetarian foods and 35% that they buy vegetarian or vegan ranges either regularly or occasionally.

The data show how far we have come from the time in the 80s when a vegetarian friend staying in an elegant hotel found that the beautifully placed cabbage decorating the centre of an exquisitely set table was in fact her meal.


Much of the information contained in this article may be found in the Archive of Market and Social Research (AMSR):

Survey vol 7 no. 4 1990: Food and drink

Target Group Index collection

Contributed by Phyllis Vangelder
Date posted: 10th January 2022


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