Part one of two.
Once regarded as a militant fringe ‘cult’, veganism has quickly risen through the ranks to become mainstream.
Previously, those who decided to forego meat, diary and any other items produced from animals were considered to be either sandal-wearing, hemp clad hippies, or militant activists. Now, veganism has sky-rocketed and many high-profile celebrities, athletes and a plethora of social influencers are singing the praises of a plant-based lifestyle.
David Haye regularly praises his vegan diet for the fact that he feels fitter and stronger than ever, as well as this change leading to a range of ailments healing.
Other high-profile individuals that have made the decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle include Venus and Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton, Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, Stevie Wonder and Jermaine Defoe. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, there are countless public figures from around the world that have eliminated animal produce from their diet and consumer tastes.
Influenced by those on the A-list preaching the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, the general public have, perhaps unsurprisingly, followed suite.
A survey by Waitrose found that 55% of vegans or vegetarians adopted the lifestyle because of animal welfare concerns, 45% because of health and 38% cited environment issues.
Last year, comparethemarket ran a survey that found 3.5 million people in the UK identify as vegan. When compared to the meagre figure in 2016 of 540,000 – you can begin to understand just how much of an impact the vegan movement must have had on the food industry.
Of course, the vegan trend, synonymous with yoga, meditation and other wellness practices has exploded on social media, fuelled by influencers. Typing #vegan into Instagram bring up 83.3 million posts.
Outside of social media, celebrated documentaries from indie filmmakers featured on Netflix, and other online platforms, explored the impact of meat and diary on our health and the role they play in chronic diseases. The ‘What the Heath?’ documentary quickly went viral and was also the follow-up to ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’, a film that investigated the impact of animal agriculture on environmental destruction.
While there has been much talk around the positive affects of more people switching to a vegan diet, we can’t ignore the impact on the environment. Cattle ranching is said to be responsible for much of the deforestation rates in the Amazon, and on another note, gas produced by cattle herds is reported to be widely contributing to global warming.
In fact, it has been estimated that if all meat eaters switched to a vegan diet, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food would be halved, as would the transports exhaust emissions linked to the industry.
But let’s be fair, while some animal rearing is harmful to the environment, pasture-raised herds help to store carbon in soil, improving the quality of the soil. Ultimately, its down to the consumer to choose the meat that they are consuming, and its widely known that a higher price means better quality, better farming methods and better animal welfare.
Perhaps a wider issue is at play here – we can’t deny that we all want to be more knowledgeable on where our food comes from.
Despite the recent news story that vegans are more likely to have a stroke, much of the talk surrounding the diet and lifestyle has been entirely positive, but can we say the same for its impact on the food industry?
On one side, it has created an opportunity for many independent vegan, plat-based and whole food businesses to increase their customer base and in turn, success. There has been an avalanche of vegan eateries open up and down the country that cater for the increased number of plant-based diets.
Of course, the independents flourish along with big name brands. Bakery chain Greggs declared that its vegan sausage roll is a best-selling item, and within six weeks of its release, the firm achieved a 14% increase in sales. Nestlé has predicted that its meat-free business, Sweet Earth, to reach $1 billion within the next 10 years.
Responding to demand has led to big profits, its reported that there is a price premium of around 50% for vegan products. However, other research commissioned by Linda McCartney Foods found that the British public saved almost £3 million in 2018 by cutting down on meat. To further bolster this, Defra reported that between 2012 and 2017 the sale of meat products had declined by 7%.
There is a vegan item for every meal and snack you can think of, from vegan granola, to vegan cheese, meat alternatives, vegan fish fingers, vegan chocolate, vegan yoghurt – meaning plenty alternatives to yield profits. The Vegan Society registered 9590 new products as vegan last year.
The number of acquisitions of vegan companies quadrupled in 2017, according to research by Foodbev. However, the irony here is that the vegan brands are being swallowed up by corporations owned by meat and dairy parent firms.
Its reported by Mintel that the UK meat-free markets has risen from being worth £539 million in 2017 to £572 this year. Furthermore, a study by Oxford University found that the USA would save $259.1 billion if the country went vegan, or if they chose a vegetarian diet, it would still produce significant savings of $258.6 billion.
Of course, the decline in sales of meat, and dairy products too, will have devastating repercussions on our farming industry. While some innovative farmers have begun to adapt and look for other business opportunities, others are facing dark times.
Next month, we explore the downsides of the vegan trend on the UK’s food industry.
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