It may not always be morality driving the vegan explosion – Rich Hobday looks at the brands cashing in on the lifestyle.
From Tesco and Greggs to Waterstones and McDonalds, it seems that an increasing number of our favourite brands are monetising the vegan movement to an unprecedented degree. The meat-free food market is worth almost £600 million in the UK, a figure that’s set to rise to nearly £700 million by 2021. Seemingly, businesses are learning that to maximise profits, they must embrace the demands of customers with an ethical inclination, with some having more staggering success than others.
Last year, the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation – with household brands and supermarkets leading the world’s drive towards a more compassionate and sustainable range of products. As such, we’ve seen an increase in the financial rewards of supplying products that cater for the biggest current growth market.
Rise of veganism
According to a report from Waitrose, one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan. A further 21% claim to be ‘flexitarian’, following a largely but not strictly vegetarian diet. That means around a third of Britons are reducing the amount of meat they eat, or cutting it out altogether, highlighting the fierce and unwavering rise of plant-based diet enthusiasts across the world. However, while this might be incredibly beneficial for animals and greenhouse gases alike, there is another sector reaping endless vegan-fuelled rewards.
Veganism is a business that has redefined the public’s priorities. As such, businesses have been impacted by this preoccupation with meat-free food and drink to an endless degree. According to the Waitrose report, about 60% of vegans and 40% of vegetarians had adopted the diet over the past five years, with 55% citing animal welfare, 45% health, and 38% environmental issues as the reason for their choice.
The growth of vegan businesses has evolved since 2016, when a group called Fairr (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return) coordinated a group of 40 large institutional investment funds worth £900 billion publicly to urge major food producers and retailers such as Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart to develop plant-based alternatives.
In the UK, prime examples of veganism’s popularity are evident throughout our supermarket aisles; Tesco’s line of Wicked Kitchen vegan meals, developed by leading US Chef Derek Sarno, were rolled out across 600 stores at the start of 2018 and sold more than 2.5 million units in the first 20-week period – more than double the company’s sale projections.
Tesco sold four million vegan meals from the range within the first eight months, prompting it to double the range to 46 items; this now includes a smoked salmon-style carrot sandwich, curried protein pot, pesto vegan lasagne and greens and what it claims was the UK’s first vegan sausage roll – before Greggs got in on the act.
Searching for vegan
Meanwhile, Morrisons, which launched its vegan ‘V Taste’ range in September 2018, has seen a similar shift in consumer behaviour. Flexitarianism, and people generally wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle, is altering the things we buy. Similarly, Waitrose has seen searches for ‘vegan’ on waitrose.com double over the last 12 months, with sales of its 65 own-label and branded vegan and vegetarian ranges up 110%.
A major growing market is the milk alternative market, which now includes increasingly popular brands such as Oatly, Rude Health, Plenish, Innocent and Rebel Kitchen. Alpro is also preparing for a massive year of growth, promoting its ‘unsweetened’ range as a healthier alternative to plant-based milks, as well as positioning itself as an “environmentally-friendly” brand.
The global vegan cheese market is estimated to be worth just under $4 million by 2024, as brands join UK supermarkets trying to win over our 22 million reported flexitarians. These efforts aren’t falling on deaf ears; research has shown that 56% of adults now adopt vegan behaviour when conducting a supermarket shop.
It’s not just product releases transforming the profit in veganism; more supermarkets are starting to label their products as suitable for vegans. Iceland recently announced that it’s in the process of introducing a ‘suitable for vegans’ label for its own-brand vegan products, joining Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op. This means that brands do not need to create new products and vegan options, but simply make people aware of existing products that are suitable for vegans. (For example, Shreddies now have a huge green ‘VEGAN’ label on its packaging).
In the frozen aisle, Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers and Häagen-Dazs all offer vegan ice cream alternatives. Meeting the demand for new vegan products is undeniably profitable, with Greggs’ vegan sausage roll not only gaining groundbreaking media exposure but actually reaping a 14% overall rise in sales over 2 months.
Getting it quicker
Fast food chains are developing high-street vegan menu options to meet our increased demand, opening up a new world of delicious, animal-friendly options, appearing at pubs, fast food restaurants and takeaways. Would anyone have ever thought you’d find vegan dishes at major fast-food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s, Subway and West Cornwall Pasty Company? Pub chains don’t want to miss out, as they see growing requests for vegan options!
Greene King, Wetherspoon, Harvester and Brewers Fayre, for example, have all recently introduced menus with vegan dishes and many Asian chains (e.g. Yo Sushi, Wagamama), Italian chains (Pizza Express, Zizzi, Bella Italia) and more now have varied vegan menu options integrated into their menus.
The writing’s on the wall
It’s not only food and drink businesses benefiting from our dedication to plant-based diets. Spin-off markets are growing faster than ever before. For example, Waterstones have 2,058 book titles with the word ‘vegan’ in them available for sale (as of January 2019), compared to 994 in August 2018. This has a cyclical effect, for many cook books are fuelling the demand for more vegan food options. Seemingly, the impact of veganism on businesses is very much a domino effect.
It’s a smart decision for businesses to embrace the vegan trend; as more of us consider a plant-based diet, the industry is being led by entrepreneurs creating vegan media channels, vending machines, snack box deliveries and more. Vegan businesses are sprouting up across the UK; between 2012 and 2016 there was a 185% jump in the number of vegan products launched. Vegan enterprises should undoubtedly utilise the growing number of vegan bloggers and influencers – social media is a powerful force behind the trend.
All businesses are being affected by unprecedented demand for vegan products. Businesses must respond to the trend if they hope to survive and maintain a positive and wholesome brand image.
Rich is an actor, film producer and vegan entrepreneur. In 2019, he curated the UK’s first vegan and environmental film festival; Sustainability on Screen. Rich is also a business partner in Bumble Beer, a new vegan craft lager.