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Slim pickings for a meat free lunch

Reports | Published  9 May 2016

Eating Better launches #MeatFreeLunch campaign to help lighten meat-heavy diets.

Food Retail

Who doesn't grab a sandwich for lunch? Some even say it's our national dish! Last year we Brits munched our way through an incredible 3.5bn sandwiches costing us £7.85bn. 

But how well do the sandwich offerings from supermarkets and high street sandwich chains help us cut down on our meat and dairy and eat more pulses and vegetables? Not that well is the answer - though the good news is that some companies are recognising the growing interest in flexitarian eating (people cutting back on meat eating) and starting to put more tasty plant-based offerings on their shelves.

Our snapshot survey of 535 sandwiches and wraps from eight supermarkets (Asda, Boots, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose) and four high street sandwich chains (EAT, Greggs, Pret a Manger and Subway) has found that consumers trying to eat healthily and reduce their impact on the environment will struggle to find a great choice of sandwiches that fits the bill. Only 19 out of 535 (4%) were plant-based (ie did not contain meat, fish, cheese or eggs as main ingredients). The vast majority (77%) were meat or fish based. That's a slight improvement on last year’s survey when just 17 out of 620 (<3%) were plant-based.  

To help you find a better choice - here's what we found. Only two stores (Pret and M&S) offer a different option for every weekday, and even that represents a very limited choice for customers wishing to eat a meat free sandwich for lunch on a regular basis.


More positively, several companies told us of growing interest in flexitarian eating among their customers and have plans to improve their ranges:

  • Pret a Manger told us it plans to increase vegetarian and plant-based offering as part of its 'Not just for veggies' campaign, including 2 new vegetarian or vegan monthly chef specials during the summer, as well as trialling 40 newly developed products in an all-vegetarian pop-up shop in June.
  • Tesco: plans to launch 7 new veggie sandwiches (including 3 plant based) in June.
  • EAT told us: "We're committed to improving our vegetarian offering and will be introducing new vegetarian and vegan products to our menus over the coming months."
  • M&S told us: “Vegetarian/flexitarian eating is a key trend and we will continue to maximise options for these customers across all our ranges, not just sandwiches."
  • Waitrose told us: “Waitrose continuously strives to offer customers choice, which is why nearly a quarter of our sandwiches are now vegetarian. We welcome the Meat Free Lunch campaign initiative, it's an excellent way of getting people to think more about diversifying their protein consumption.”

But Boots and the Co-operative supermarket told us they have no plans to extend their vegetarian ranges. 

It’s great news that some companies are responding to the growth in the flexitarian eating market and have plans to expand their ranges,” says Sue Dibb of Eating Better. “But on the whole customers seeking healthier sandwiches with a lower environmental impact are being let down by slim pickings. We’re calling on all food businesses to step up to the plate and offer a better range of delicious plant-based sandwiches made with vegetables and pulses.

Eating Better is calling on all retailers – regardless of their range size or customer demographic – to offer a good selection of varied, tasty, healthy and sustainable sandwich choices - with less meat, less dairy and more vegetables and pulses in their place. Eating Better is encouraging food companies to see the business opportunities in helping shift the nation’s eating patterns to be healthier and more sustainable.

Our #MeatFreeLunch campaign is encouraging people to swap their lunchtime meat, fish, cheese or egg sandwich for a vegetable-based option, or try making their own. Examples of mouthwatering vegetable and pulse based fillings that we found include falafel, hummus, Mexican three bean, Moroccan vegetables, red pepper tapenade, Ancho squash & corn, chickpea & sweet potato; onion bhaji, cauliflower & mango chutney; and avocado & herb.

Download our #MeatFreeLunch briefing paper and press release and check out what others are saying on twitter at #MeatFreeLunch.

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