“Whereas before, veganism may have been viewed like you were giving up something, now it’s been reframed as what you gain”
— Kip Andersen, “Cowspiracy” co-director
Vegan alternatives to meat and animal products in general are becoming more prevalent in societies, moving from a simple option for when people didn’t want (or couldn’t) consume animal-based stuff, to a change factor that directly impacts health and the environment.
Making an obvious mention to wildlife care, there are several studies that support the jump to a vegan life, both for the benefit of the global economy and to control the rates of obesity and related diseases, as well as to generate awareness and proactive efforts about the damage we do to our planet.
Big companies have always known this, but instead of turning a blind eye, they are now showing more interest in betting on plant-based products, organic and vegan diets, because the “vegan wave” does not have to be strict or extreme lifestyle as many may think.
In fact, there is flexitarians, a variant that covers a good sector of the population (32% of US citizens in 2019, for example) which consists in having a meat-free diet for one’s own consumption, as well as using vegetable or organic products, but at the same time being able to open up to traditional options when in a social context.
As this has been the alternative that the “new vegans” or those who are beginning to trust slowly in this movement take, large multinationals from many sectors such as McDonald’s, KFC, Kellogg’s, Milk Beauty, Lush Cosmetics, The Body Shop, Amazon, among others, focus their attention on making products that allow for long-term sustainability, matching (and some very quickly) to new global market trends.
In this case, it is worth asking, how is veganism forcing companies to adopt alternatives to stay afloat in the game?
Current Overview and Market Conditions
Grand View Research, a business consulting and analysts firm, estimates in its market report that the economic flow of vegan alternatives, in all segments, is valued at $12.69 billion (2018), implying a projection of $5.8 billion (2022) in the meat substitutes industry alone, as well as a huge growth of up to $20.8 billion (2025) in “cruelty free” products, i.e., cosmetics, personal health care, clothing and others that are not tested or manufactured from animals.
A report published by BBC in 2017, on context of the World Meat Free Day, celebrated for more than 35 years by the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), outlined some important points of change in favour of humanity and the planet if an animal-free product lifestyle were to be adopted by 2050. It can be noted that:
- The global death rate would decrease by eight million.
- Eliminating the production of red meat (livestock) would reduce up to 60% of greenhouse gases emissions into the atmosphere, principally methane.
- It would restructure the biodiversity lost due to the exploitation of livestock and industrial production, returning to natural green areas, giving a positive effect on climate change.
- The coronary diseases rates, some types of cancer and diabetes would be considerably lower, saving between 2-3% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in medical expenses at a global level.
Obviously, changes in the consumption patterns also imply traditions and business models that will have to be solved by governments and companies, since stopping the production of animal-based items means investing in agriculture and bioenergy production, which would generate a way of life change in many rural sectors (also in urban ones).
The Executive Vice President of Tyson Foods, Justin Whitmore, explained what business diversification is, taking into account the panorama that forces the industry to bet on sustainability, talking especially about the creation of vegan alternatives for meat, a very sensible sector where we see a growth in the use of vegetable proteins (wheat gluten, tofu, tempeh, nutritional yeast).
By revealing that Tyson Foods, one of the largest meat marketers in the world, is investing in the market for meat substitutes and vegan dairy products, along with other giants such as Cargill or Beyond Meat, Whitmore makes it clear that the global axis of food is beginning to focus on fulfilling the popular needs.
Sustainable food is truly the future, as proof of this, Tyson Foods invested to create an alternative protein production line, Raised & Rooted, delinking from their business with Beyond Meat; and like this one, other cases of big companies, not only in food market, are becoming popular and revaluing their shares.
However, returning to the projected benefits of adopting a vegan economy, Dr Marco Springmann, Senior Researcher in Population Health at Oxford, believes that globally up to $1.1tn would be saved in health care expenditures and $0.5tn in environmental protection, as well as highlighting that two-thirds of greenhouse gases emissions would be reduced, thus detailing other health and environmental care changes.
It is important to emphasise that all these studies and market analysis have an origin in the evolution of consumption trends, because society does not think or want to lower its consumption rate but the ways, also seek alternatives that are viable to improve life quality and take effective action for the planet.
This is driven, talking now about the spectrum or opinion makers in pro-veganism, by audiovisual projects (mainly documentaries) that expose the public to reality behind the traditional food industry, the fashion industry, beauty and even health.
“Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” (2014) is a documentary that explores the impact of livestock farming on the environment, deforestation, water wastage and its contribution to the atmosphere damage. Through interviews with members of organisations such as Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network or Sierra Club, a contrast is presented on the real problem of livestock and the policy of action of the entities, revealing that they do not achieve a true approach that solves the consequences of animal exploitation.
How Are Companies Doing to Adjust to Vegan Market?
Some researches make clear that, at the current rate, the world market for vegan meat substitutes is expected to grow to $27.9 billion by 2025, leading to a 15% annual increase.
In turn, the acceptance and adoption of vegan foods is becoming a viable option, as humanity has understood that a plant-based diet would be more effective in feeding the world’s rising population, taking into account some factors such as climate change and deforestation, which clearly influence animal farming.
Keeping with the food industry, but in the vegan dairy and egg sector, data collected by CB Insights’ Industry Analyst Consensus indicates that this market is worth approximately $18 billion, representing a significant economic investment by companies such as Ripple Foods and Califia Farms, these includes frequently consumed products (partly due to the overall rate of lactose intolerance) such as soya milk, almond milk, milk based on yellow peas, coffee made from oats, even ice cream created using techniques that remove milk, a special category for Ben & Jerry’s or Eclipse Foods.
In 2017, Amazon bought the Whole Foods supermarket chain, expanding its distribution network throughout the United States and creating partnerships with companies that bet on vegan alternatives (with considerable success so far). Similarly, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, through his venture capital vehicle, Bezos Expeditions, has financed the company NotCo, specialists in making sustainable foods with the help of artificial intelligence. Together, they developed a mayonnaise that does not contain egg but still has a high quality standard.
Already in other sectors, vegan and organic substitutes are making their way into the market, thanks to the strong demand from ever more aware consumers. Even in the hotel industry, resort managers have found it attractive for tourists and locals to have a vegan menu, organic toiletries, organic cotton clothing, fruits and energy bars, replacing many traditional consumer choices that generate higher production costs, with healthier and more sustainable options.
A concrete example is the Hilton London Bankside, a five-star hotel that offers vegan options on its menu, in snacks and has eco-suites equipped with organic carpets, non-animal leather seats, vegan toiletries and personal care items, etc. This also encourages airlines to expand their meal service or redesign aircraft structures, as is the case with Emirates.
Veganism in the cosmetics and fashion world is another very interesting trend, with an estimated growth of $20.8 billion by 2025 (Grand View Research data). We are aware of the initiatives of Lush Cosmetics, The Body Shop, Bolt Threads and many others that choose to make herbal products, which is called “cruelty free”, to stop animal resources exploitation, improving the personal care and beauty products quality, such as biofermented sugar cane-based moisturizers , lipsticks from seeds, fruits and makeup / creams with silk proteins.
In 2019, another important step was taken: the first ever Vegan Fashion Week was held in Los Angeles, organised by Le Frenchlab founder, Emmanuelle Rienda, as a response to the global trend of using animal-free clothing.
The event featured designs made from synthetic furs using pineapple fibers and apple skin, as well as garments made from recycled materials, showing the same diversity (coats, evening dresses, accessories) as in any exhibition and serving guests with cocktails and vegan snacks. Most of the designers who participated hold important positions in houses like Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg.
Another plus point for companies that are joining the vegan market is the development of products such as laboratory-grown meat or plant proteins, with the help of biotechnology, bioengineering and artificial intelligence, as methods to decrease the demand for livestock and other animal farming activities, which in turn contribute to bioenergy production and decrease greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
So far, when it comes to the projection of vegan market, the figures are outrageous and the movement expansion creates real awareness on the part of population, investors and governments, since the departments designated to regulate the business sector, often approves certification frameworks for the control of these products, meaning another crucial step for the efforts of vegan industry to be the first option in a near future.
Main sources consulted