Search Trends

The rise of the Vegan, Vegetarian and Gluten Free niche online

15 Mar 2019

  • In 2018, more than 3.5 million British people turned to a plant-based lifestyle; up a staggering 548% from 2016.

  • With the rise of flexitarianism sparked by ‘Veganuary’ , the British population is exploring meat alternatives, and nowhere is this more evident than in search.

  • Interest peaks yearly in January, and searches in this month alone are up 79% between 2016 and 2019.

  • We take a look at the most popular and valuable products in this burgeoning niche, as well as the changing course of search trends when higher purchase intent searches are prioritised.

The value of the UK online grocery market was forecast to be worth £190.3bn in 2018. In the same year, sales of meat-free foods were forecast at £598m. While the 'Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free' niche, at present, may only represent a 0.3% share of the wider market, it is seeing pronounced growth. More than 3.5 million British people turned to a plant-based lifestyle in 2018 - a staggering amount when you consider that in 2016 this figure stood at only 540,000 - that’s 548% growth!

And retailers are beginning to take note, with Waitrose launching a dedicated vegan section in more than 130 shops, and Iceland reporting a 10% rise in plant-based food sales over the last year.

Flexitarianism leads to search flux

Vegetarian and vegan delicacies are making their way onto tables the land over if Google is anything to go by, with compound annual search volume growth reaching 15.5% YoY - and that’s not even taking 2019 figures into consideration.

Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free Chart Annotated

In fact, January 2019 - or should we say ‘Veganuary’ - has seen the highest consumer interest peak ever, with 1.44m searches across hundreds of the most popular searches.

To put this growth into perspective, January 2016 saw a comparatively modest 803k volume across the same popular searches; that’s significant uplift of over 79% in just two years.

The 'Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free' niche peaks yearly in January, as we pledge to make healthier, more ethical decisions for the year ahead. This growth has undoubtedly been fuelled by the charity ‘Veganuary’, which encourages people to try out veganism in January. The ‘Flexitarianism’ campaign lead to more than 168,000 people pledging to go vegan for the first month of the year, in 2018.

Move over Veganuary, it’s time for Vegantines Day

So, which specific meat and dairy free foods are leading the way in January each year? Behind searches of a general nature (i.e. ‘Best gluten free food’ , ‘Buy vegan products online’) the most popular food type in this niche is ‘Snacks and desserts’ (i.e. ‘Vegan chocolate cake’, ‘Vegan ice cream’).

Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free Snacks peak online every year in February


Unlike all other topics under the 'Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free' umbrella, however, search volumes in this category peak yearly in February rather than January; likely as a result of Valentine's Day - because Vegan’s deserve chocolate too!

Veggie ‘Snacks’ make for valuable searches

Over the last three years, the top 3 most popular categories based on search volume alone include:

  1. ‘General
  2. ‘Snacks and desserts’
  3. ‘Meals’ (i.e. ‘Vegan pasta bakes’)

But this landscape changes noticeably when market values and conversion potential is taken into consideration.

Snacks and desserts are the most valuable Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free product type, and peak highest in December

‘Snacks and desserts’ becomes the single-most valuable category - to the extent that its lowest value month in 2018 surpasses the highest peak of the next most valuable category: ‘Dairy alternative’ products. Consumers of ‘Snacks and desserts’ therefore have a far higher propensity to purchase when searching these products.

Even more illuminating is the organic value peak that occurs in December across ‘Snacks and desserts’, which far exceeds that of January and February. This demonstrates that, while search volumes are comparatively lower at Christmas, desire to buy some tasty veggie / vegan / gluten free treats is at its highest.

Prioritising this kind of truer value data over general search volume can help retailers to predict sales, forecast revenues and inform company wide strategy; from Content and PR to Store Planning.

Who is evangelical about ethical eats?

Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free - Share of Voice

Owning search right now across the meat-alternative market is BBC Good Food, with a 17.3% share, owing to a strong spread of content across each category; including the most valuable topic ‘Snacks and desserts’.

The landscape itself is predominantly made up of information sites (i.e. Healthline, Wikipedia and, with only two supermarkets featuring: Tesco (position 5) and Waitrose (position 11). There is still a great deal of opportunity to be had by retailers hoping to move into this space.

Go Vegan or go home

With growing awareness of the health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle, combined with media exposés of the meat and dairy industry and influencer advocacy on social media; 'Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free' foods are becoming not just a dietary choice, but a philosophy feeding into consumers’ identity.

As such, this niche presents a huge opportunity for retailers to build meaningful relationships with their customers. Those not taking advantage of this burgeoning lifestyle opportunity will find themselves falling drastically behind. The message is unequivocal: Go Vegan or go home.


If you like the insights in this post, get in touch to see further 'Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free' data.

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