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072 - Why the vegan children's market is set to explode

Why products for vegan children will be the next big growth sector.  Last year, Quorn launched their vegan Roarsomes Dinosaur Nuggets, making them one of the first high-profile food companies to bring out a vegan product aimed specifically at children.  But new research from The Vegan Society suggests that children are 50% more likely to be vegan than adults, so with demand so high why is this new sector currently so under-served?

David takes a detailed look at the Vegan Society’s new report into Vegan Food for Children and identifies the opportunities for businesses in the vegan children sector – not just in food, but in events, entertainment, education and campaigning.  He also looks at some of the barriers companies are going to face in serving this market, from education about nutrition to lobbying that will aim to stoke fears about raising a child on a vegan diet.

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Episode transcript:

Hello and welcome to episode seventy-two of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe. And if you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.

And before we jump into this episode I just wanted to give a quick shout out to all our Vegan Business Tribe members. Because this podcast, the website, all the work we do to champion and skill-up the vegan business scene – it’s all largely funded by our membership site over at Vegan Business Tribe. And there are two sides to the work we do: there’s all the visible work that you see (so the website, this podcast, the community); but then there is also the increasing amount of behind the scenes work that we now do that you don’t get to see but is equally important. As Vegan Business Tribe’s reach continues to grow, David & Lisa are regularly approached by the media, organisations and influential individuals – all looking for more information and support around the vegan sector. We’ve provided data to the BBC for news stories, we’ve had discussions around legislation in the plant-based business sector, we’ve helped TV companies find vegan products for shows and we’re always on hand to give a quote or do an interview. And not only does all this allow us to positively influence the representation of veganism in the wider business scene, it leads to us finding some really good opportunities for our members too! We could not do everything that we do though without the support of our members over on the Vegan Business Tribe website. So, if you truly believe in our mission to grow and skill-up the vegan business scene then I only ask you to do one thing to support us, and that’s come and sign up to be part of our Vegan Business Tribe community – and it will cost you less per month than if you bought a cup of coffee every week from your local coffee shop.

But not only does your membership mean we can keep putting out this podcast every week, and keep doing everything we do to champion the vegan business scene around the world, but you also get access to so much content in our Vegan Business Academy to help you grow your business; you get to come along to all our online networking meet-ups and business clinics and you also get full access to our community of vegan business owners in our community hub who believe in your mission and want to help you grow your business.

So, if you haven’t signed up yet – or maybe you didn’t even know we had the membership site, the events and all the extra member-only content, then stop lurking and head over to the website at veganbusinesstribe.com – and then not only can you support the work that we’re doing, but we can also support the important work that you’re doing with your business too.

OK, so let’s get started with today’s topic, and one of the reasons that we’re looking at the vegan children’s sector is because of a new report that The Vegan Society have published called Vegan Food for Children. And The Vegan Society’s commercial insights team have been doing some amazing work recently. They have been relentless in the industry insights they have been producing over the last couple of years which is really useful for people like myself. It makes my life so much easier when I can actually pull out some hard statistics to back up the content we produce and the conversations we have. I am going to be sharing some of those stats with you from their report, but I would say that if you have a real interest in the vegan children’s sector then go download the report for yourself so that you can read it in full. Just Google ‘Vegan Food for Children’ report from The Vegan Society. Or you can also go to the statistics page in the media section of The Vegan Society’s website, and click on Families & Children and you’ll get a link to it there too.

And the reason I really wanted to look at the vegan children’s sector today is, well, for me and Lisa, having a vegan business is our form of activism. Just like it is for the vast majority of vegan business owners and probably you too. We want to use the skills we have to move the vegan cause forwards. And I’ve been asked a number of times if I think we’ll actually ever see a vegan world. And my answer every time is the same – absolutely we will. I genuinely have no doubt of that, but it’s going to take two generations. If children adopt veganism now, then they won’t have to face the same hypocrisies that we did in later life. Their own children will be vegan from birth and killing and eating animals will be seen as an alien concept.

And that’s partially because Children just ‘get’ veganism. It’s the reason why the truth about where a lot of food comes from has to be kept from us as children. They don’t have to battle the pre-conceptions that we do when we come to veganism in later life, and once a child understands that a food product is not just FROM an animal but also resulted in the death of that animal, then they are very passionate to find an alternative. In fact, if you do download the Vegan Society Report they actually quote me saying just that on page six.

And it makes a lot of sense that the vegan children’s market is right on the edge of seeing explosive growth right now because if you turned vegan as an adult in the UK, then there’s a good chance that you turned vegan around 2017 or after. That’s when we saw a ‘hockey-stick’ sharp curve in people taking up veganism in the UK. And a lot of those people were young adults, who are now meeting each other at events like Vegan Camp Out, or are using vegan dating and friendship-finder apps like Veggly and VegPal, and, naturally, are now beginning to start families. And if you are vegan yourself and you have a child, then you are not going to want to give that child products that have been taken from animals. But in the same way that you had to overturn everything you had been led to believe about healthy nutrition for yourself when you turned vegan, doing that when you are pregnant or just had a new baby and wondering what to feed it, is hard.

There is huge pressure to give children dairy especially, and that pressure is not just directly from the dairy companies but also our families. We have been told since we were kids that you need milk taken from cows to grow healthy bones and teeth – when that is simply not true, you need CALCIUM and there are far more practical ways to get that calcium in our bodies than to keep impregnating cows over and over and then dispatching of their babies so that we can have their milk in our lattes. So the companies who are positioning themselves to solve these problems for vegan parents and guardians are really looking at a whole new marketplace. Alpro now have a children’s follow-on milk for 1 to 3-year-olds that is soy-based and fortified with calcium and vitamin D. We’re seeing a rise in vegan children celebrities, such as Omari McQueen who at twelve years old already has his own vegan cooking show on CBBC. Our Vegan Business Tribe member Mark Bidewell helped his five-year-old son Harry launch his merchandise company Vegan Squirrell, who was described by a national newspaper as the UK’s youngest vegan activist. And this year we have the first Vegan Kids Festival – a weekend-long event run by another of our Vegan Business Tribe members Dana Burton, which will have hundreds of vegan children and families in attendance. And just as an aside, I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say at the moment but there’s a chance that you might just see Vegan Business Tribe camped out at the Vegan Kids festival this year, so if you’ve got kids and want an excuse to spend the weekend glamping in the woods then go check out their website at www.vegankidsfestival.co.uk because I know tickets are selling out fast.

OK, so why else am I tipping the vegan children’s sector as one of the next big growth areas? Well, let’s take a look at some of the stats.

We know that 3-5% of the population identifies as vegan – but in children, it’s far higher. In 2021, BBC Good Food surveyed 1,000 children in the UK aged 5-16 and found that 8% of children said that they followed a vegan diet but a further 15% said that they would LIKE to follow a vegan diet. That’s 15% of the population under 16 saying that were they in charge of all their food choices they would be considering going vegan. Another study by YouGov in 2019 found that nearly 30% of 11–18-year-old meat-eaters wanted to reduce the amount of meat they ate, but identified the barriers of not enough plant-based options in school canteens and the prevalence of advertising for meat-based fast food. Separate research carried out by Linda McCartney Foods also suggested that 70% of British children want more meat-free meals available on their school menus.

Coming back to the new Vegan Society report on Vegan Food for Children, from their survey of parents and guardians they reported that almost 40% said that either their children were already vegan or vegetarian or had expressed an interest in becoming vegan. Of course, in the interests of fairness, that means that around 60% of the respondents said their children were not and had expressed no interest in becoming vegan – but that 40% who were is staggering.

In a few years, all these young people who are either already vegan (or are very pre-aligned towards vegan products) will be making their own food choices and will have their own incomes to spend, but they are putting a lot of pressure on their parents to buy vegan products and the industry needs to quickly catch up. Because in the same survey, The Vegan Society also asked about people’s views of the availability of children’s vegan food and 68% agreed that more could be done by the food industry to develop vegan food products that were especially aimed at children. Especially healthy vegan alternatives, with nearly 69% saying they would like to see more healthy vegan food options for children. Now, I know, I know, before you start shouting at me, food made from plants can be the healthiest food out there and the cheapest and easiest to make – we know that. But when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s easy to see vegan food as being all about burgers and meat replacements and that statistic just goes to show that, to the marketplace, there is a problem that isn’t being filled by enough products. Children do eat processed foods. Especially when outside the home, and probably inside the home more than we’d care to admit, so plant-based food products that are not just exciting for children, but also demonstrably healthier to their parents and guardians, is a big opportunity right now.

In fact, The Vegan Society’s research went on to ask how parents think the food industry could encourage children to eat more vegan food, and the most popular option WAS for manufacturers to develop more vegan food products specifically aimed at children. But what surprised me was what the LEAST popular response was – which was to engage the government around new initiatives aimed at children. And the reason this stood out to me was because government has a huge role to play in promoting plant-based food over animal-based, especially in institutions like schools. As I said, cow milk is still subsidised in many UK schools. Government and NHS advice on nutrition still goes against the latest research and findings when it comes to animal-based products, especially so when it comes to children. When The Vegan Society asked what kinds of vegan foods parents would like to see schools offering more of, plant-based milks and cheeses were right at the bottom of the list. Children’s dairy-based yoghurts, which can be full of sugar, still make it into children’s lunchboxes because of their advertised calcium content which all comes back to the myth that children need milk from cows, even though it’s the most horrendous process we could have come up with to get calcium.

And we’re going to see a lot more of this. There are battles going on in courtrooms across the world at the moment about what terminology can be used to describe products not made out of animals. There are legal challenges to stop a product using the word ‘milk’ if it’s made from plants, regardless that we’ve had coconut milk, and even coconut meat, for centuries. These challenges are being brought by the animal industries trying to protect their falling sales. But just wait until vegan children’s products start hitting the mainstream. It’s already been suggested that raising children as vegan could be considered a case for social services and should be investigated as child abuse. If we are going to prevent similar public opinion and attempted legislation being brought in over vegan food being promoted to children, then we need to be engaging governments and lawmakers in conversations now.

Because lobby groups will look to influence public opinion even further against vegan food for children. Those fears that grandparents and wider family will have about you raising your child vegan will be easily stoked, so companies looking to meet the demand of this new market will need to make education a huge part of their offering. They will need to successfully educate the fact that it’s the actual vitamin or mineral that the child needs for healthy growth and it has little effect what food source it comes from. And that’s not going to be a simple task.

But this new market is coming. Last year in 2021, Quorn launched their Roarsomes nuggets, vegan breaded nuggets shaped like dinosaurs. Now, Quorn isn’t a wholy vegan company but let me tell you, from the conversations we’ve had with their development team they are trying to be. As a company that is the grandmother of meat-replacement products, Quorn are uncomfortable with how much impact they still have on animals because they use egg as a binding agent in their main products – and how much effort and money they have put into finding an alternative over the past few years which is starting to result in the release of vegan Quorn products. And market research shows that half of all 7-15-year-olds eat chicken nuggets at least once a fortnight, so if you are going to introduce a vegan product to try and move children away from eating animals then nuggets are the obvious place to start! And because parents kind of know chicken nuggets are not the healthiest of foods, it’s one they will be happier to swap out with plant-based. We are also seeing all the major fast-food chains introducing very respectable animal-free versions of their main products. More needs to be done on the health side, but I think we can say the same to a lot of food aimed at children which is why many vegan children’s products are leaning on an open door with parents here: if choosing a plant-based food over one made from animals is seen as part of meeting that healthier food challenge, then that’s all good.

And again, coming back to The Vegan Society – this year we’ve seen the society appoint an Education Officer to provide CPD-accredited training to teachers and schools on vegan inclusion so work is starting to bring veganism squarely into the classroom. But we’re also seeing the growth of veganism outside of just food. Organisations such as Vegan Kids who are behind the Vegan Kids Festival are bringing young people together with others who share their ethics. Children make some of the most passionate and persuasive activists and care about the world they live in like no generation before them. Young vegan campaigner Genesis Butler was one of the youngest people to give a TED talk at just ten years old. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, have a wonderful initiative called PETA Kids that provides tonnes of information for both vegan children and their guardians.

Now, with my slightly opportunistic hat on, I would say that for businesses, there’s definitely money to be made in supporting children’s interest in veganism – just as there is money to be made around any children’s interests. There’s opportunities for TV and YouTube shows to be made for vegan children, there’s books to be written such as the amazing Vivi The Supervegan by Tina Newman. There’s support for vegan parents and education for places that look after and cater for vegan children. There are experiences, cooking classes and events – I mean, the family section of Vegan Camp Out last year was possibly the most vibrant area of the whole event, I wanted to just stay there doing Zumba and face-painting with the toddlers all weekend!

But away from the business opportunities that are undeniably there, the real opportunities we should all see is the future these vegan children are going to bring. I will even go so far as to say that the quickest way to bring about a vegan world will be to put all our effort into bringing children onto this journey with us – and then just getting the hell out of their way. 5-year-old Harry Bidewell from Vegan Squirrell has probably converted more people over to veganism than I have, he even got his nursery chain to do Veganuary and introduce one plant-based day a week across all their sites. Gretta Thunburg has had more impact on climate awareness than some of the world’s leading climate scientists. This is their world, and our job is to remove all the preconceptions that were passed down to us about our relationship with animals and make sure they are not passed down to our children. We need to let them make the more compassionate and cruelty-free world that we know they can.

OK, so let’s have a recap of our look into the vegan children’s sector with a quick bullet-point run-down of what we’ve just spoken about.

1. If you want more detailed information on the stats we’ve spoken about, do go check out The Vegan Society’s research that I’ve been quoting from. Just Google the ‘Vegan Food for Children’ report from The Vegan Society or you can also go to the statistics page in the media section of The Vegan Society’s website, and click on Families & Children.
2. We are going to see huge growth in the vegan children’s market over the next few years. As more and more young adults turn vegan, more people are having children who will be vegan from birth. This leads to a lot of unique problems for those parents that have yet to be solved, and lots of opportunities for businesses that can solve them.
3. The stats are really significant. Whereas maybe 3-5% of the general population identify as vegan, 8% of children already follow a vegan diet. And as high as 15% would like to. 40% of the parents surveyed by The Vegan Society said that their children were already vegan or vegetarian or had expressed an interest in becoming vegan.
4. Research also shows that there is a big marketplace for vegan products specifically aimed at children but that is hugely underserved. Quorn’s Roarsome Vegan Nuggets is a great example of a company who has made a big success by leveraging this, even if it’s not the most healthy example!
5. Education and legislation is going to play a big part in this sector. In the survey, parents were not in as much favour of offering vegan replacements for cow milk products and dairy yoghurts – and cow milk is still subsidised in many schools. We have a whole lifetime of being told that children need dairy that we need to unwind.
6. It’s not just food that we should be paying attention to in the vegan children sector. There are lots of opportunities for entertainment, education, socialising, books and experiences.
7. If we want to move the vegan cause forwards then we need look no further than the young people of today. I truly believe we’re two generations away from a vegan world and in many ways, we need to just get out of their way.

And that is it, and just to add one final point that I’m dedicating this week’s bullet point list to our Vegan Business Tribe member Mitali Deypurkaystha from The Vegan Publisher, who said she doesn’t always have time to listen to the full podcast so she fast forwards to the bullet points at the end to make sure she’s not missing out. From anyone else I could be offended at that, but I know how busy you are helping people publish their stories so they were just for you!

OK, so thank you for joining us this week and do go take a look at The Vegan Society’s report if you have a real interest in this sector, and also if you are not actually a member of The Vegan Society, then what are you playing at?! Few if any of us would be vegan today if it wasn’t for The Vegan Society, they do absolutely amazing work at changing the world’s view of veganism and the least we can do as vegans is sign up to support them with a yearly membership.

And as always, if you have enjoyed this episode then please do give us a 5-star review on iTunes or a thumbs-up or whatever your podcasting platform lets you do to share that you enjoy this podcast, it makes a huge difference to us finding new listeners. And if you are really serious about growing your vegan business and you also want to support the work that we do at Vegan Business Tribe, then do go check out the website at veganbusinesstribe.com and click on the join button on the homepage to find out how you can do that.

So thank you for listening, Lisa and I really appreciate you giving up your time to join us every week, and I will see you on the next one!

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