‘Dry January’, as well as ‘Veganuary’, saw thousands of UK shoppers shun alcohol and meat.
It adds to pressure on Irish exporters after government advisers in the UK this month recommended that consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy be cut by 20%.
The UK imports €4.42bn of Irish food and drink and remains the most important market for Irish producers.
Market researcher Kantar said total UK grocery sales rose just 0.3% in the 12 weeks to January 26, with the traditional “big four” supermarket groups all seeing year-on-year sales declines.
They pointed to consumers making different shopping choices in the post-Christmas period.
“Many people start the year with good intentions and pledges to make healthier choices following the excesses of the festive period,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar.
Sales of meat substitutes such as soya mince or vegetarian burgers and sausages were 14% higher than January last year, while sales of lentils were up 6%, lettuce 10%, and aubergine 14%.
However, the plant-based food boom is not primarily caused by a rise in the number of people following strict vegan diets — vegans still make up just 2% of the population and only 5% of us are vegetarian.
Instead, the trend is being driven by many people making small changes and trying to eat more plant-based meals and the retailers are responding accordingly.
Ireland’s beef trade saw a 15% fall in exports to the UK last year.
Further reductions are feared as climate advisors to the UK government say the public there should eat 20% less beef, lamb, and dairy.
Kantar said that of the big four supermarket chains in the UK, Sainsbury’s was the least worst performer with a sales decline of 0.6%.
Industry leader Tesco, Walmart-owned Asda, and Morrisons saw sales falls of 0.9%, 2.2% and 3.0% respectively.
All of the big four continued to lose market share to German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl, whose sales rose 5.7% and 11.1% respectively, giving them a combined market share of 13.8%. Unlike the big four, they are continuing to open lots of new stores.
Last month, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons all reported subdued Christmas trading, blaming a tough consumer backdrop.