Top Products of 2018: Health, Wellness and Flexitarianism shaped U.K. Food and Drink Habits this year
Woman in grocery store with smartphone

Top Products of 2018: Health, Wellness and Flexitarianism shaped U.K. Food and Drink Habits this year

New data compiled for The Grocer’s annual Top Products Survey revealed that avocados, flexitarianism and wellness are more than just millennial stereotypes. In fact, these lifestyle trends – most notably the rise of ‘clean living’ and cutting back on vices – are having a profound impact on the nation’s eating and drinking habits. Here are the top findings from the data.


The buzz around veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism is making its mark on sales, with meat-free products fuelling the extra £41.9m spent on chilled ready meals.

In a nod to the vegan trend, dairy-free is also booming. The top 11 dairy-free brands in the data amassed collective growth of £59.4m (24.9%). Finally, we’re eating more of our veg – volumes are up 1.4% as an extra 73.4m units were sold – while meat volumes are down 0.3%.


Nielsen’s research reveals free-from is now the fourth fastest growing category by absolute value, representing the health-conscious state of the nation. Meanwhile, sports nutrition is the fastest growing category by percentage, up 20.8% to £119.1m. Superfoods are also booming, with avocado volumes up 8.4% and blueberry volumes up 16.6%.

Cutting back on vices

It’s not just what shoppers are choosing to eat that is improving: smoking is also losing its appeal. Tobacco is no longer the fastest growing category in grocery, now sitting behind spirits, soft drinks, beer and free-from. Even the rise of the soft drinks market – up by £247m – is slightly deceptive. The rise in value comes amidst the introduction of the government’s soft drink levy in April, as volume consumption has remained flat. In line with today’s emphasis on health, the most sugary products are down as shoppers opt for healthier options.


When it comes to alcohol, consumers are going for quality rather than quantity and turning to smaller, more experiential alcohol brands. The fastest growing alcohol brands under £50m include the likes of Estrella Damm, Whitley Neill Rhubarb & Ginger Gin, and Diageo’s Hop House 13.

Adam Leyland, Editor of The Grocer, said: “It’s not just Britain’s politics that are in upheaval. The food and drink we eat and the way we consume it is changing. Paradoxically we’re getting fatter but more healthy. And it’s millennials and Gen Zers that are driving these twin trends. We are drinking and smoking less while embracing healthier options like low-calorie drinks and ice cream, but we are also indulging more in treats and snacks and takeaways. Younger consumers are also more keen  to move away from the big brands and to embrace craft, niche and startup brands. This is acting as a wake-up call for the giants of grocery. However big you are, you have to position yourself as an exciting proposition for today’s consumer – or face losing relevance.”

Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight, Nielsen said: “Millennials are not only driving new trends like veganism – they are creating new markets. Shoppers are increasingly seeking out more flexible meal choices and driving demand for healthier food as well as  meat and dairy free options. Retailers need to sit up and take note – the landscape of the sector has changed immeasurably, and it’s crucial for retailers to be flexible and open to new demands from the next generation of shoppers.”

The full results of the Top Products survey will be published in The Grocer.