Not just for vegans

Whilst once viewed as a dietary trend, veganism is now becoming a lifestyle. There are four times as many vegans in the UK today as there were four years ago and over a quarter of meat-eating Brits have reduced or limited their meat consumption. It is also reported that 20% of Brits are willing to try plant-based dairy products in place of milk.

Coffee chains have already reported that the demand for vegan oat and almond milk is soaring. There was a time these were only requested by people with dietary requirements, however people now consume dairy alternatives out of choice. Mintel found that plant-based milk sales rose by 30% between 2015 and 2017 and continue to rapidly increase. Popular brand Oatly was forced to expand its manufacturing facilities in 2018 in order to keep up with demand.

With dairy milk sales continuing to fall, it’s no surprise we have seen leaders in the space adapting to the trend; Danone has invested millions into plant-based milk production and last year was considering adding milk-free ranges to some of its flagship brands.

Plant-based protein is also witnessing huge levels of demand. LEON, the healthy fast-food chain, launched a vegan “LOVE” burger in January in response to seeing a 21% increase in vegan meals in 2018, and numerous start-ups in the space are attracting interest from large food and drink conglomerates.

The US’s largest meat producer, Tyson Foods, invested in Beyond Meat in October 2016 and subsequently injected more into the plant-based protein company in December 2017, joining other notable investors such as Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio. The company, whose products are sold at Whole Foods and at restaurant chain TGI Friday’s, also filed for a $100m IPO last year.

Unilever, which has been incredibly active on the M&A front in recent years, acquired Dutch brand The Vegetarian Butcher in December last year in order to cash in on “consumers turning their backs on meat” and to expand its portfolio into plant-based foods that have a lower environmental impact.

consumers turning their backs on meat

Other groups which have made the move in the last 12 months include Wessanen, which acquired plant-based yogurt alternatives and ice-cream company Abbot Kinney’s in September, and Kerry Group, which purchased Dutch plant-based protein business Ojah in April.

What is interesting here is that some of the world’s leading food businesses are investing heavily in relatively new companies in order to gain a foothold in the market. This suggests that, whilst many have questioned the sustainability of the trend, the global shift looks here to stay; and with the market just getting started, there is plenty of opportunity for growth.

However, with the market already becoming increasingly competitive and with new companies springing up, can vegan product makers continue to drive the category forward and avoid saturation?

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