Get ready for the vegan children's sector

New research from The Vegan Society shows that children are 50% more likely to be vegan than adults.  But with demand so high, why is this new sector so under-served? We take a look at the opportunities for businesses in the vegan children sector – not just in food, but in events, entertainment, education and campaigning.

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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 was the year when we saw a ‘hockey-stick’ sharp curve in people taking up veganism and a lot of those people were young adults.  Naturally, these new vegans 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 are now beginning to start families.  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 have just had a new baby and wondering what to feed it is hard.

There is huge pressure to give children meat and dairy, and that pressure is not just directly from the animal agriculture companies.  We have been told since we were kids that you need milk taken from cows to grow healthy bones and teeth, and the pressure that vegan parents can face from their non-vegan friends and families can be significant.  But children themselves just ‘get’ veganism.  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. 

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 growing-up 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: What’s Cooking Omari.  Vegan Business Tribe member Mark Bidewell helped his five-year-old son Harry launch his merchandise company Vegan Squirrel, 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 which will see hundreds of vegan children and families in attendance.

 

And the statistics back-up the increase in activity we’re seeing in the vegan children’s sector.  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 if they were 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 significant barriers to doing so, including 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.

The Vegan Society has also done their own research, and in their recent report on Vegan Food for Children they reported that almost 40% of parents and guardians said that 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 60% of the respondents said their children were not and had expressed no interest in becoming vegan – but that 40% who had 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 now 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 aimed at children.  Especially healthy vegan alternatives, with nearly 69% saying they would like to see more healthy vegan food options for children.  As vegans, we know that food made from plants can be the healthiest and cheapest food to provide to your family; but when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s easy to see vegan food as being all burgers and meat replacements and that statistic shows that there is a demand for vegan children’s food that isn’t being filled by enough companies.  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.

Exploring this a little further, 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 indeed for manufacturers to develop more vegan food products specifically aimed at children.  But surprisingly, the least popular response was to encourage the government to run new initiatives promoting vegan food to children.  Governments have a huge role to play in promoting plant-based food over animal-based, especially in institutions like schools where cow milk is still subsidised.  Government and NHS advice on nutrition still goes against the latest research into the medical benefits of a plant-based diet, especially more so when it comes to children.  And 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, which also feeds into that fear of not giving children dairy products.

And we’re going to see a lot more of this.  There are battles going on in courtrooms across the world 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 legal challenges are being brought by animal industries trying to protect their falling sales, but just wait until vegan children’s products start gaining traction – it has already been suggested that raising children as vegan should be investigated as a form of 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.

Lobby groups will look to influence public opinion against vegan food for children.  Those fears that grandparents and wider family will have about a parent raising a child on a vegan diet will be easily stoked, meaning that 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 public that it’s the actual vitamin or mineral a child needs for healthy growth and it has little impact what food source they come from.  That’s not going to be a simple task.

The statistics show that there is a demand for vegan children's food that isn’t being filled by enough companies. Plant-based food products that are not just exciting for children, but also demonstrably healthier to their parents, is a big opportunity right now.

But this new market is coming.  Last year in 2021, Quorn launched their Roarsomes nuggets, vegan breaded nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.  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 understand that chicken nuggets are not the healthiest of foods, it’s a product that they will be more comfortable swapping out with plant-based.  We are also seeing all the major fast-food chains introducing very good animal-free versions of their main products – of course, more needs to be done on the health side, but the same can be said with a lot of food aimed at children.  This means that vegan children’s products are leaning on an open door with parents: 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 for both the industry and the vegan cause.

Coming back to The Vegan Society’s moves to support veganism in children, this year we’ve seen the society appoint an Education Officer to provide CPD-accredited training to teachers and schools on vegan inclusion – so their activities are 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 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 information for both vegan children and their guardians.

Just like any sector based on what children are excited about, there are definitely business opportunities in supporting children’s interest in veganism.  There are opportunities for TV and YouTube shows to be made for vegan children, there is demand for children’s books such as the amazing Vivi The Supervegan series by Tina Newman.  There is a demand for support for vegan parents, and education needed for places that look after and cater for vegan children.

 

But away from the business opportunities, the real prospect we should all be excited about is the future these vegan children are going to bring.  5-year-old Harry Bidewell from Vegan Squirrel has probably converted more people over to veganism than most adults will in their lives , and he even got his nursery chain to do Veganuary and introduce one plant-based day a week across all their sites.  Greta Thunberg 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 today’s children.  We need to let them make the more compassionate and cruelty-free world that we know they can.

Let’s have a bullet point recap of what we’ve just covered in this article:

  1. 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.

  2. 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 many 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.

  3. Research also shows that there is a big marketplace for vegan products specifically aimed at children that is currently 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!

  4. Education and legislation is going to play a big part in this sector.  In The Vegan Society’s survey, parents were not as much in favour of offering vegan replacements for cow milk products and dairy yogurts.  Cow milk is still subsidies in many UK schools and we have a whole lifetime of being told that children need dairy that needs to be unwound.

  5. 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.

  6. If we want to move the vegan cause forwards then we need look no further than the young people of today.  If we can reset children’s relationships with animals then we’re just two generations away from a vegan world.

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