Ethical concerns and health are helping to promote interest in the meat-free market with signs that the younger generation will drive greater growth in future, new research from Mintel indicates.

Mintel’s Meat-free Foods UK 2017 report says under-25s are twice as likely to be non-meat eaters than the rest of the population.

Nearly a fifth of under-25s say they do not eat red meat or poultry. This rises to a quarter of women in the age group.

Animal welfare is the biggest reason why non-meat eaters say they avoid meat but under-25s give environmental benefits as their main reason.

Mintel says the trend towards meat reduction comes at a time when the meat-free foods market is demonstrating a recovery.

Volume sales dropped 14% between 2012 and 2015 and value sales 10%, but last year volume sales grew 2% and value sales jumped 4% to £559m.

Mintel says the market looks set to reach £572m this year – with rising prices forecast to increase value sales to £658m in 2021 – an 18% increase between 2016 and 2021.

Overall, half of UK adults ate meat-free foods in the six months to March; 38% have eaten vegetable-based products, such as a burger made from vegetables, 32% bean-based products and 26% nut-based products.

Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel, said: “Despite the ingrained popularity of meat and poultry, a clear trend has emerged of people cutting back and limiting how much of these products they eat.

“That ‘flexitarianism’, a whole new dietary phrase, was coined to describe this movement, also highlights its indisputably mainstream status.”

The flexitarian trend carved a very accessible and unrestricted middle ground between simply meat-eaters and non-meat eaters, while acknowledging a conscious effort to eat less meat, she said.

Lifestyle trends are helping to broaden the appeal of these products, most notably many consumers are becoming more vigilant about the amount of meat in their diet.