Why All Businesses Need A Vegan Option If They Want To Be Successful In 2021

And how not to under-estimate the power of the vegan veto

To say that plant-based business is trending, is not only an understatement, but would also incorrectly lend itself to the notion that an end to this phenomenon is anticipated.

In reality, what we are witnessing is not a fad, but a societal shift in the way consumers think about food, purchasing power, and the relationship between the two. Not convinced? Here are some stats to consider:

  • By 2026, the plant-based food market is globally expected to reach around €22 billion and will experience a compound annual growth rate of over 9% between 2019–2026 (1).
  • Between November 2019 and November 2020, vegan food orders via Deliveroo shot up 115% (2).
  • In conjunction, the global market for dairy alternatives is accounted for at €7.7 billion in 2016 and expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.5% to reach €17.7 billion by 2023 (3).
  • In 2020, the number of Google Searches for terms related to ‘vegan food’, ‘vegan restaurants’, and ‘vegan recipes’, exceeded the all time high of the previous year — which was a 460% increased from the year before that (4).
  • In March, the sale of vegan meats in the United States increased by 280% following the disruption of the meat supply chain due to slaughterhouse outbreaks of Covid-19 (5).
  • Reports show that 1 in 3 Americans have either stopped or significantly decreased their consumption of animal products in the last few years (6).

The Vegan “Trend”

Alright, so we have a smidge more than a trend going on here, and what’s more is that there isn’t one particular reason people are making the choice to go vegan or choose the meat-free option on a menu.

In fact, the European Plant Attitude Study on consumer behavior found the following results for the breakdown of individual motivations for choosing vegan options: 41% cited health reasons, 36% cited concerns of animal welfare, 32% cited environmental sustainability, 20% reported taste preference, and 20% of participants said they subscribed to the lifestyle in order to be more “on-trend (7).”

Not only does this breakdown highlight some of the most common and scientifically emphasized reasons for choosing plant-based products and restaurants over animal-based ones, but the finding that 20% of individuals might be joining in purely on the basis of popularity, means that the extent to which veganism is becoming (and will continue to become) mainstream has serious ramification for consumers and business owners, alike.

To illustrate this further, scientists estimate that by 2040, only 40% of the world will actually be consuming meat, and that it’s not only those who strictly adhere to a plant-based diet who are spending their money on vegan food, but also individuals with a vast range of dietary preferences and practices (8).

And speaking of mainstream, plant-based options are now widely available at restaurants on both sides of the spectrum, from fast-food to fine dining, and everything else in between.

Reports of analysis on the spending habits of over 2.5 billion UK customers found that while the fast-food industry has, historically, only experienced growth, the chains and restaurants that focus exclusively on meat-based menus, thereby neglecting the needs of the vegetarian and vegan consumer, have subsequently experienced a dramatic decline in sales (9). This indicates that companies not willing to shift with consumer demand for plant-based options may, indeed, suffer.

The Vegan Veto

It’s not entirely uncommon for retailers and restaurants to believe (based on their current financial observations) that there is no vegan customer base, and therefore no demand, nor profit, to be made by introducing vegan friendly options to the business. The mistake in this belief, however, lies in the power of the vegan veto.

Let’s say, for instance, that there is a family of 5, and their teenage son has decided to go vegan. If the family is at all accommodating, then despite they, themselves, not adhering in any way, shape, or form, to a vegan diet, they will likely choose to spend the collective sum of their time and money at an establishment that offer vegan options suitable for the family vegan.

In this sense, it becomes easy to understand how the false impression of an absent vegan customer base can present itself, when, in reality, a business might be missing out on an entire sector of the population — one that cares more about supporting their friends and family members, than an all macho meaty menu.

As a result, it’s not just small local business that is shifting in order cater to a wider variety of different lifestyle choices, but also big industry giants such as Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods is the world’s second largest producer of beef, pork and chicken (number one in the United States), operating major meat companies in 22 different countries.

The multinational food corporation originally invested over 36 million dollars in the plant-based protein company, Beyond Meat, but in April of this year, Tyson reportedly sold its stake after deciding to pursue its own brand of plant-based meat. In a similar move, California’s oldest and largest dairy farm, Giacomazzi Dairy, recently decided to switch cows for almonds, and focus its operations on plant-based options, after seeing a dramatic decrease in sales.

Thus, many of the most prominent names within the animal agriculture industry are not only racing to invest in plant-based companies, but are also trying to get ahead of the “trend” by creating their own avenues to turning a vegan profit.

Interestingly enough, over 39% of products that meet the requirements for a strictly plant-based diet do not in any way specify being organic, natural, free from artificial ingredients, or sustainable on their products labels. It’s important to realize that the vegan consumer is no longer your average granola-eating, Birkenstock wearing hippie, but everyone and anyone.

The vegan veto not only forces a revision of the typical purchasing power equation as far as plant-based business is concerned, but also emphasizes the importance of inclusion for the future of the food sector.

If businesses want to be successful in 2021, they are going to need to embrace these changes — and sooner rather than later.

Alexandra Walker-Jones — January 2021

Writer and published author with an international background in psychology, nutrition, and creative writing. I’m just here to learn ;)

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