What's going to be the next big thing in vegan?

From more innovation in food (hello potato milk and pea protein!) to catering for vegans in care, we look ahead to bring your our top 10 predictions of what the next big growth areas are going to be in the vegan sector.

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It’s easy to think that the market is already saturated for vegan products.  But if you go to your local supermarket you might have a choice of (if you are lucky!) four vegan pizzas.  Look at the non-vegan pizzas and you might find up to 15 different brands and options.  Or compare the number of companies making vegan burgers compared to the number of companies making them from dead animals.  It’s still a tiny fraction.  Do you think Mars come up with an idea for a new chocolate bar then scrap the idea because they think the market is over-saturated for chocolate?  Of course they don’t.  In fact, we know that some of the biggest research and development budgets over the last five years have been going into figuring out how to make vegan versions of a company’s products.

So saying that the vegan sector is becoming oversaturated is a bit like saying there are too many companies making shoes.  All the projections show that the vegan food sector is going to keep growing as more people are interested in food that is better for the environment, the animals and quite often their health.  What this does mean, however, is your product just being vegan is no longer a selling point, it no longer makes a product stand out.

Because, yes, the sector will keep growing and, yes, more people will continue to turn vegan but we’re also going to see new niches developing and sectors that are currently niche hitting the mainstream.  So buckle-up and join us for ten of our biggest predictions for what we’re going to see next in the vegan market.

01 More innovation in vegan food products

This might be quite an obvious one to start with but we’re going to see a lot more vegan food products that start filling in the spaces around what we’ve already got.  We’ve already mastered the vegan sausage roll, but what about the vegan pork pie or vegan scotch egg?  I listened to a presentation from supermarket buyers a couple of months ago and they said that whenever they launch a new food product the emails start coming in straight away asking if they plan to do a vegan version.  So if you’re thinking about launching a new vegan food product then think about all the products in the world that are not yet vegan and see what you can do about that.  Could you make vegan caviar and sell it exclusively to the kinds of shops that sell fish-egg caviar as a vegan alternative?  Vegan boiled eggs, vegan fish fingers or vegan Battenberg cake – what mainstream food products don’t yet have commonplace vegan versions?

And you don’t necessarily have to try to sell and market the product yourself.  You might create a vegan version of a product and then approach a company that already has a non-vegan version and an established customer base to ask if they want to sell your product as their vegan version under their own brand.  Even some butchers are now selling plant-based meats alongside their usual products, and some local dairies are offering oat milk on their milk-rounds and might be happy to take your products on.  For example, Applewood didn’t develop their award-winning Applewood Vegan Cheese that sold-out in supermarkets across the UK.  Heather Mills’ Vbites company approached Applewood (who are a dairy manufacturer) with an amazing vegan cheese they had developed and offered to manufacture it for them with Applewood branding it up as their own.

02 More diversity of ingredients in vegan food

This is something we’re already seeing and we are definitely going to see a lot more of it – especially more diversity in protein sources.  And that’s because a lot of people first came to the concept of veganism as a way to be more environmentally conscious and sustainable.  But if food products are made with ingredients that have been grown on the other side of the world, then those who are vegan for the environment more than the animals can be put off by that.  This is why we’re seeing a lot of companies looking at new alternative ingredients to make their product out of such as pea protein – which isn’t anywhere near as awful-tasting as it may sound!  In fact, pea protein is actually really versatile and you can grow peas locally.

Or take a look at US company called Hope & Sesame, who are making plant milk out of the waste product left over from tahini production.  Even the humble potato is taking on a whole new lease of life as potato milk hits the supermarket shelves, and we need more of this sustainability thinking in food manufacturing.  Brazil is the world’s largest producer of soy, but the world’s biggest demand comes from the EU and China (although unfortunately the majority of that demand is for animal feed).  The humble pea and potato however can be produced much closer to where a product is going to be sold – and as awareness of where our food comes from increases, along with the impact it has on the communities and the environment where it’s being produced, the world is looking at lots of exciting alternatives to the soy bean.  So if you have one, now is the time to be talking to your local food manufacturers!

03 Further expansion of vegan products for children

There are various statistics about what percent of the population are vegan with most agreeing it’s somewhere between 3 to 5%.  But a recent poll commissioned by the BBC found that in children aged five to sixteen, 8% are already following a vegan diet and 15% said they would like to be vegan.  That’s 15% who would be vegan if they were in charge of their own food choices, putting pressure on their parents, their schools, their families and their friends to choose vegan products.

That’s not just a lot of potential customers, it’s also an opportunity for a lot of education.  There are many posts in vegan Facebook groups from vegan parents who have been told to give their children meat and dairy (even by doctors) or it will badly impact their growth.  This can be scary for parents who have had a lifetime of being told they need meat and dairy in their diets to be healthy.  So vegan products for children that also aim to educate the parents (and even health professionals) have got a big future as this trend continues to grow.  Kale and spinach have more calcium than dairy milk but we have to acknowledge that getting young children to eat kale if they have previously been raised on dairy isn’t easy – so there’s going to be a big market for vegan products that are specifically designed to be attractive to kids.  In fact, that market is already there but it’s really under-served.  Chocolate companies like MooFree or fruit companies like Bear Snacks have made some inroads into the children’s snack market but are still very secondary products.  Alpro now have a follow-on soya milk for toddlers that even has B12 included and we saw Quorn launch their vegan Raorsome dinosaurs nuggets – so expect to see lots more companies catching up with the vegan children trend.

But it’s not just food where there are plenty of opportunities.  We’ve got some brilliant vegan children’s groups like Dana Burton’s Vegan Kids organisation that aims to bring together vegan children and is also running the vegan kids festival.  The Vegan Society are setting up a new Education Network to engage schools, teachers and educators about veganism.  The BBCs children’s channel CBBC now has their own vegan cooking show hosted by twelve-year-old cook and vegan activist Omari McQueen.  Getting to a vegan world will be a generational journey but it’s only going to take a couple of generations to get there.  10% of children now eating vegan will become 30% in no time at all.

04 Veganism enters the care sector

As well as veganism becoming mainstream for children, the same will apply at the other end of the age spectrum.  More and more people going into care are vegan or want vegan options.  Maybe they were vegan pioneers who have been vegan for several decades, maybe they were influenced by their grandchildren or were advised to move to a plant-based diet to improve later-life health conditions, but there are plenty of people in their 70s, 80s, or even older who are wanting to eat vegan.

The issue is that a lot of care providers don’t know how to cater for a vegan diet.  That demand will keep increasing for as long as people keep getting older and the number of vegans in later life continues to grow.  It’s also no secret that many hospitals and respite centres fail badly with providing good vegan options.  So you might want to think about how you can provide vegan services or products to the care sector and people coming to veganism in later life.

05 More vegan 'experiences'

If you join Vegan Business Tribe and you go and look at the member’s directory, you will be surprised how many members we have in the travel category.  Vegan Adventure Holidays (picturerd) founded by Emma Fry, Green Earth Travel founded by Donna Zeigfinger, we’ve even got JC De Klerk’s Air Safaris 269 which has just completed its first vegan safari trip in Namibia.  But what a lot of these companies find is that their customer base is not just restricted to vegans.  A lot of people want to try out veganism combined with an experience such as travelling.

And we’re going to see more vegan tourists – but I don’t mean just physical tourists going on holiday.  I mean people who want to try on veganism without fully going vegan just yet.  People are wanting to book on vegan cooking courses or learn more about vegan products as part of their journey of finding out more about plant-based.  And we’re going to see this extend beyond people wanting to just try vegan food to people wanting to try out some vegan ethics too.  At Vegan Camp Out this year, we met a lot of people who were not vegan but were somewhere on that journey; they had come to listen to some of the activists, try out some of the food and fully expected that it was going to change their perception of veganism.  So we’re going to see more experiences aimed at the general public where people will be able to do something more ethical with their time, such as more vegan events aimed at non-vegans, or holiday packages where people can help out on an animal sanctuary, live vegan for the duration of their stay and pay for the privilege!

06 Vegan petcare hits the mainstream

We use the term ‘petcare’ here because that’s what the industry sector is known as, but many vegans prefer the phrase ‘companion animals’ to describe the animals that we live alongside.  However, many of the vegan ‘pet foods’ that are currently available are made by small independent companies but many of the big petcare companies are also working on their own plant-based pet food ranges and we’ll soon see these on the shelves in the supermarkets too.  Although if you are looking for vegan pet food right now, you have to go no further than Vegan Business Tribe member Steve Hutchins who is the founder of DoGood vegan dog food! (pictured).

And the reason this sector is going to grow is because the biggest market for meat, after consumption by humans, is household dogs and cats.  And in the same way that people used to think that humans couldn’t live healthily on vegan diets, many people currently think the same about animals.  So again, a large part of succeeding in the pet food market will be educating and reassuring humans that their fellow animals can thrive on a plant-based diet.  And just like with children, a lot of people are looking to transition animals over to plant-based that haven’t been raised vegan since birth, so there’s a lot of opportunities for like-for-like wet petfood products that mimic the current animal meat-based products.  So if you have an idea for a vegan animal product, now is the time to start taking that seriously because we’re going to see the big established non-vegan companies getting in on the action soon!

07 Cultured meat on supermarket shelves

Cultured meat is a complicated sector to talk about.  Meat made in a laboratory is still meat and it still currently needs cells from animals to grow.  In fact, some processes use ‘bovine serum’ which is cells extracted from unborn cow fetuses.  But I wanted to include it in these predictions because it’s going to have an impact on the sector.  There is currently too much money being put into lab-grown meat for it not to soon start delivering commercial products, and Derek Sarno, who is the head of plant-based at Tesco supermarkets, said he thinks we’ll see it on supermarket shelves in the next five years.

For many vegans, the idea of lab-grown meat is still off-putting (you can’t claim it’s vegan because it’s grown from animal cells) but for others, it’s the holy grail of food manufacturing.  And it’s coming.  In some ways it could allow many people to sidestep veganism entirely: instead of vast factory farms you will see vastly reduced numbers of livestock being kept to extract cells from.  And it may be to the meat industry what vaping has been to the tobacco industry: something that is seen as a way to produce meat with less harm and environmental impact.  So although it’s not something a lot of ethical vegans will want to buy it’s definitely on the horizon for the mainstream consumer.

08 Price parity for vegan processed products

If you live in the UK you will have seen that supermarket Tesco slashed the prices of their own-brand Plant Chef products to match (or in many cases be cheaper) than meat and animal products.  We’ve seen the Co-op do the same with their ‘Gro’ vegan range (pictured) saying that “you shouldn’t have to pay more for plant-based”.  In fact, Co-op have made a seven-figure investment and reduced the price of their vegan products by as much as 50% to bring them into line with their non-vegan ones.  And we’re going to see more of this.

There are a number of reasons why vegan processed products are more expensive than meat – but it’s not usually that the vegan products are actually expensive, it’s that meat for a long time has been too cheap.  Meat and dairy production receives huge subsidies from governments around the world meaning the price of animal products is artificially held low.  Another reason why processed vegan products are often more expensive is because they haven’t had the same economies of scale (ie, when there’s low demand for a product then the cost per unit is higher to make) – until now.  We’ve seen demand for vegan products hit the mainstream and, because of this, consumers are getting far more price options.  If you want you can spend £2 on a carton of plant milk or you can spend 55p.  You can spend £3.50 on four vegan sausages, or you can spend £1.45 on six.  And there’s room at both ends of the price scale.  As the available market widens, then competition increases and we’ll see more and more vegan products positioning themselves on price. 

That doesn’t mean that you have to join the race to the bottom to be the cheapest though because it also means there will be more of a market for premium plant-based products too – you’ll have to justify that premium price.  And that justification might be with your ingredients, with your branding or with your mission.  But a product just being vegan will no longer be justification for charging more than non-vegan products.

09 More established brands going vegan

Again, this prediction will be news to no one!  We’ve all seen the Vegan Galaxy Bar and even car companies like Tesla offering vegan interiors but we’re going to see more and more traditionally non-vegan companies racing to embrace vegan products.

The big vegan launches will keep coming as non-vegan companies try to win back the customers they have been losing, especially amongst younger demographics.  All the main supermarkets now have their own vegan in-house brands, and we’re even seeing brands like Pret launching vegan-only versions of their cafes and coffee houses.  Burger King even recently trialled a meat-free version of their restaurant in Cologne, Germany and have publicly committed to working towards a 50% plant-based menu.  Partly, these brands going vegan is them simply following an industry trend and it’s easy to look at these companies cynically.  But what we’ve found from dealing and consulting with a number of them is that often you have one or two people in that organisation who are the ones making all the noise that the company needs to change.  They are the champions who actually want their organisations to embrace plant-based in a meaningful way, making themselves a right pain in the backside for their managers above them until they are heard.  And in all the big companies who we love to hate as ethical vegans (and not without good reason!) you will likely find someone who has decided to try and change the system from within.  We will likely get one of the big fast food announcing that they are ditching meat entirely in the next few years, and it will be interesting to see who goes first.  We will see companies launching more all-vegan branches of their shops and restaurants and not just for Veganuary.  And the meat production industry itself will be forced to change in return.  Rob Percival who is the Head of Food Policy at Soil Association and author of ‘The Meat Paradox’ recently tweeted: ‘I spent the day with a major chicken business discussing their 2030 sustainability strategy: “We think we probably need to stop selling dead animals,” they told me. “One way or another, it feels like the future is kill-free.” Extraordinary.’

So again, this means as vegan companies we can’t just rest on our laurels.  All the good work we have been doing is changing the industry but we’ve only got a short window where our ethics is going to be a big enough unique selling point to separate us from the huge global companies, which leads us to our final prediction:

10 More vegan businesses on a mission

So we know that just selling a vegan product or a service is no longer a unique selling point, but (for now) the reasons why we’re selling vegan products is.  And the companies who are bringing that to the front of their businesses are making huge leaps right now.  Take a look at Vegan Fried Chicken (or VFC) started by Adam Lyons and Veganuary founder Matthew Glover (pictured) in 2020.  In less than a year are now listed in Tesco Supermarkets and selling internationally into the US.  VFC banned the use of the phrase plant-based and put activism at the heart of their extremely cool brand.  Just go take a look at their social media accounts for some of the best public put-downs of anti-vegan trolls you will ever see.

We need to remember that even with their internal champions trying to change the companies from within, as long as it’s meat and dairy manufacturers leading the plant-based marketplace with their vegan alternatives then they will stay just that: alternatives – a way for these companies to retain customers without having to give up their main animal-based products.  But a lot of people are taking note of what Adam and Matthew have achieved with VFC and their unapologetically vegan message, and it’s showing the rest of us that you can be successful by embracing the ethical vegan mission with your company.

So that’s our top ten predictions of what’s going to happen in the vegan sector – and we know that some are already happening from conversations we’ve been privy to behind the scenes.  But if you have observed your own trends or have your own predictions then let us know!

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