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A Look at Dietary Lifestyles 2021

Grace Binchy, Insights & Trends Specialist

Dietary Ifestyles Source.PNG


A drive towards a more balanced way of being and less emphasis on perfection is the key theme emerging from our Dietary Lifestyle Study 2021.

This study, an update on our 2018 Dietary Lifestyles study, was designed to understand how dietary lifestyles have evolved since 2018. The purpose of the study was to enable the food and drink industry learn how people are approaching their diets, the dynamics at play, looking in particular at relationships with protein and alternative proteins.


Our partners in designing this study were Empathy Research. This multimarket study was conducted across 9 markets including Ireland, France, UK, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and China. The study involved over 18,000 participants


Below is an outline of some of the key findings within the body of the report.


Health, wellness and sustainability continue to take precedence

Health and sustainability continue to drive interest in following these dietary lifestyles with 81% of people deeming themselves to be very healthy and 65% of people making more of an effort to be aware of the environment around them. Both trends have been accentuated since Covid with 64% saying that eating healthily is a priority for them now (vs 12 months ago) and 47% of global consumers reporting that ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients are more important to them now than before the pandemic (Bord Bia, 2021).


Dynamics around diets are moving towards “balance”

70% of the population don’t actually subscribe to any particular dietOverall there seems to be more of a move towards balance, with 55% of people saying they are trying to eat a balanced diet, and don’t follow a specific diet  or food lifestyle (this is +3% since 2018) and only 4% of people saying that they are STRICTLY following a specific diet or lifestyle (this is down 6% on 2018) (Bord Bia, 2021).


Flexitarians in particular are driving the numbers behind  the growth in dietary lifestyles

Dietary behaviours seem to be less intense, evolving to become more embracing and tolerant and with that, it is not surprising that flexitarianism is taking significant precedence over other diets. Interestingly, while many aspire to follow or be associated with a particular diet, it doesn’t always translate into actual behaviour.  When it comes to both adhering and associating with particular dietary lifestyle, the numbers are highest for flexitarians, with 24% associating with a flexitarian diet and 19% actually adhering to a flexitarian lifestyle. When it comes to a vegan diet 14% of people are saying they associate with it yet only 2% are actually adhering to it (Bord Bia, 2021).


The who and the why

All three groups of flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans are younger than the total population (tending to be U45). Vegans and vegetarians tend to be young and female, with vegans being particularly young. Vegans now tend to be countrywide, while vegetarians and flexitarians remain predominantly more urban centric.


Whilst health is a primary driver for following these diets and is a much greater priority for flexitarians, protecting the environment plays a greater role for vegans and vegetarians.


It’s interesting to see that environmental motivations are becoming ever more important for those following a vegan lifestyle. While food in recent years has become increasingly important in terms of expression of identity, especially for younger cohorts, it would appear that some change is at play now in the context of these dietary lifestyles. While 32% of vegans claimed that distinguishing themselves from others was a motivation for them to initially start their food lifestyle in 2018, this figure has reduced now to 9% (Bord Bia, 2021).This would suggest that growing planetary concerns are taking precedence, with this cohort appearing to be somewhat more concerned about the world than the world’s view of them.


Dietary diversity is happening

 The report goes into significant detail around what people are putting on their plate and we are seeing consistent patterns of change emerging. Weekly consumption continues to be very high of red meat and chicken. Whilst red meat consumption has fallen across Western Europe, it remains steady in the US and in growth in China. In line with other studies we have published, people are consuming ‘less but better meat’ in European markets and this study highlights how people are consuming more steaks as an example, at the weekend.  Fruit and vegetable consumption shows significant growth across markets - this is in line with people trying to eat healthier as we our learning from other recently published Bord Bia studies. Fish is playing a strong replacement role. Dairy consumption continues to be high across all markets whilst meat and  dairy alternatives also demonstrate growth.


Who’s buying what in the alt market?

Looking more closely at the alt market. 62% of all people have purchased free from/alt proteins. 67% of those who have ever purchased free from/alt proteins purchase  a free from product regularly. 25% regularly purchase meat free and 23% dairy free. 85% of all who purchased free from/alt proteins will do so in the future and of the 27% who have said they have never, 17% say they will purchase meat free, 14% dairy free and 4% will purchase both in the future (Bord Bia, 2021).


Key challenges are around comprehension, perceived health and trust

While price and convenience remain concerns there are growing challenges around health perceptions of plant based foods and a lack of comprehension around plant based credentials. 30% of people think meat free is overly processed and almost a quarter of vegans believe this to be the case, 27% of people don’t consider vegan diets to be balanced. According to a study by the British Nutrition Foundation, 61% of Britons are unlikely to adopt a plant based diet in 2021- in part because of an education gap when it comes to the meaning of plant based. 41% say that a plant based diet means following a vegan diet. There are also growing concerns around green washing and distrust which means businesses need to be more transparent.


The report also sets out a range of actions and opportunities for the food and drink industry to consider in engaging with consumers.


To learn more about how people are approaching food on their plate and the growing emphasis on dietary diversity, click here to download both the global and local market reports.



British Nutrition Foundation. (2021). - https://www.nutrition.org.uk/press-office/pressreleases/plant-based.html

Bord Bia. (2021). Dietary Lifestyles Report.