Vegan cheese, vegan beer, coconut bacon… everywhere you look, brands are innovating to make vegan food dreams come true.
And who can blame them? Vegan or plant-based lifestyles are on the rise globally, with Australians more interested in becoming vegan than almost any other nation.
As a result, the Australian packaged vegan food market is predicted to be worth a staggering $215 million by 2020, up from $60m in 2015.
Food manufacturers are responding with innovative, and often surprising, products. In the past five years, the number of new Australian food products labelled as vegan has almost tripled.
But it’s not enough. Australian food manufacturers need to think bigger as demand continues to exceed supply of vegan food. That means taking time to understand the trend (indeed, if we can still call it that) as well as the opportunities and challenges it presents for businesses.
What’s behind the plant-based trend?
First, let’s look at what being “vegan” or “plant-based” means.
A vegan neither eats nor uses any animal products. This includes items such as eggs, honey and leather. Instead, they choose a diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and – increasingly – plant-based substitute foods like vegan cheese and even lab-grown meat.
Did you know that Winston Churchill published an article predicting lab-grown meat would help feed the world – in 1931?
Ethics used to be the main driver for turning to vegan food; with questions such as ‘Where does my food come from?’ and ‘What’s its impact on people, animals and the planet?’. However, many people are now choosing the alternative diet for health reasons. Some believe they’ll lose weight and feel fitter by avoiding foods that come from animals.
It follows then, that Australians’ red meat consumption is declining – which is partly due to price. While we still eat an enormous amount – a hefty 26 kilograms of cow and 9kg of lamb per person in 2017 – one in three Australians is limiting their meat consumption. More than two million Australians live a meat-free life, according to Roy Morgan Research.
The most popular vegan food products are dairy substitutes (such as almond milk), followed by sauces, snack items and confectionary.
Grill’d, Hungry Jacks and Nandos now offer plant-based burgers alongside their traditional meat options. Woolworths and Coles stock a range of plant-based burgers, while Aldi has expanded its own-brand plant-based food range, Earth Grown.
So, what can Australian food manufacturers do to win over the vegan market?
1. Bring new ideas to the table
Australian SMEs may be among the most innovative in the world, but Food Innovation Australia has revealed that only 5% of employing food and agribusinesses are what it would call “businesses of tomorrow”. It seems that Australian food manufacturers have some catching up to do…
One area calling out for innovation is the production of plant-based meat. In Australia alone, the sector is estimated to generate over $3b in sales, $1b in manufacturing and create more than 6,000 jobs.
Then there’s coconut bacon – a vegan, gluten-free snack, which is touted as a healthy substitute for bacon made out of coconut flakes.
Vegan cheese is another space where innovation is bearing fruit. In Australia, dairy-type products are worth $83.7m and vegan cheese production has grown by almost 70% over the past two years. The number of Australian producers multiplies monthly and now there’s even an online store for dairy-free cheese.
(Read about this 30+-year-old Australian value-added fresh-produce business that diversified into vegan dairy products).
2. Align your values with customers’ values
Many vegans have a strong social conscience and want to know the brand they’re buying from has integrity.
As well as knowing exactly what’s in their food and where it’s come from, consumers increasingly want to know the nutritional and medicinal qualities, and its impact on the environment during production.
This is where your labels come in. Use them to show your brand story and provide the provenance they’re looking for. For example, Byron Bay food company Extraordinary Foods highlights how their organic kale comes from local, sustainable Australian farms.
Another example is UK-based This company, a plant-based meat brand that has deliberately kept its packaging as simple and authentic as possible. Most of its packaging uses 90% less plastic too, which is in-line with its customers’ values.
3. Market intelligently
Focus on the flavour in your labelling and marketing and treat plant-based food as you would any other product.
Amit Tewari, owner of Soul Burger in Sydney, says, “We’re careful to not lump plant-based eating with ‘organic’, ‘healthy’, ‘raw’ buzz words, and instead will discuss it as ‘satiating’, ‘flavour’, ‘satisfying’ and ‘gratifying’.”
Research also shows that over 50% of people will pay more for a product that’s made from all-natural ingredients.
4. Keep an eye on plant-based trends
People are increasingly looking for indulgence without the guilt in their diet, and vegan food can offer this. For example, high-end manufacturer Divine makes a dairy-free, dark chocolate and mint Easter egg.
Celebrities are also championing the movement. Beyoncé advocates for veganism and Richard Branson and Bill Gates support the development of plant-based alternatives to meat. As a proud vegan, Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the investors in vegan meat brand Beyond Meat and the chickpea-based snack brand Hippeas.
No doubt about it: vegan food provides an exciting opportunity for Australian food manufacturers to experiment, innovate and take your brand in a new direction. The best way to get started? Do your research, and understand your target audience and your competition.
The good news is there are industry experts out there waiting to help, including the Monash Food Innovation Centre (FIC) at Monash University.
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Image credit: iStock/ altmodern (main)