Few movements in history have captivated people’s lifestyles as powerfully as veganism in recent years. The random convergence of numerous factors has acted to propel veganism into the limelight, helped along with clever marketing, such as a bit of sparkle from worldwide celebrity endorsements. People enjoy veganism, it makes them feel virtuous. They celebrate it as an extension of their personality, to make themselves stand out from the crowd and feel more interesting.
The inefficiency of a meat-based diet is one of the most powerful persuaders for change. In a recent statement the UN Environment Program concisely summed up the limitations of animal-based production: ‘Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe. The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined.’
Even before COVID19 customers were readily searching for new styles of cuisine and healthier meat-reduced options, so much so that orders of vegan meals grew by 388% between 2016 and 2018. According to the British Takeaway Campaign 600,000 people were vegan in the UK in 2018, since which this number has ballooned to 1.5 million in 2021, a growth rate that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Vegetarianism, on the other hand, is still growing strongly with an increase of 137% over the same period but clearly the added health and animal welfare benefits of veganism create a more forceful case to diners. There are now 3.1million vegetarians in the UK, about 6% of the population. More generally consumer’s adventurousness continues as strong as ever, highlighted by the increased growth of interest in Pakistani, Greek, Persian and Turkish takeaways, compared to more traditional favourites like Chinese and Indian.
Why is veganism is growing so fast?
The chance convergence of at least seven factors have acted together to fuel interest in veganism:
- Increasing interest in health issues associated with veganism vs. a meat-based diet.
Concerns over serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, which are regularly linked with meat diets.
- COVID19 gave some punctuation to many peoples’ lives. It gave them a chance to pause and reflect on health issues, their diet, and to try out alternatives.
- Growth of mainstream interest in climate change. Rearing animals and poultry for food is a wasteful and inefficient production method. Of the world’s approximate five billion hectares of agricultural land, 68% is used for livestock.
- Growing uneasiness among consumers about animal welfare in farming.
- Food science advances with vegan products means more appealing products. Such as vegan cheeses that now grill well to give an authentic taste and texture.
- Veganuary is a powerful post-Xmas event during January, which celebrates all things vegan. The timing straight after Xmas when the guilt has set in is well placed, as everyone yearns for a goal to make themselves feel more positive. Strong marketing with plenty of celebrities willing to endorse their own personal crusade.
- The increased availability of vegan products makes vegan choices simpler and more convenient to buy.
Allplants, manufacture a range of vegan ready meals, which they ship out frozen to its online customers from its production unit in Walthamstow. The company uses a subscription box model, where customers receive couriered frozen orders once a week. Customers choose from a range of main dishes and side orders. There are numerous styles of cuisine with main dishes coming in at a price point of between £5.00-£6.00. Customers can order each week or skip weeks according to their plan.
The company was established five years ago by brothers, CEO Jonathan, and Alex Petrides and their timing was dead on. So much so they have now built on three consecutive years of triple digit revenue growth. Investor funding has been confident, and they have just completed a £38 million Series B funding round. A record figure for a European plant-based food business. Allplants will use the latest investment to increase production by six times in its current plant. Vigilant to an opportunity the brothers saw the potential in promoting the business to a more male market and signed up former England international footballers, Chris Smalling, and Kieran Gibbs as brand ambassadors.
Interestingly investors are not vegan themselves but do have clear ideas on the market, as Jonathan explained: “76% of these investors are not vegan, and 73% of investors believe there is a lack of healthy and nutritious plant-based meals available in the UK”
The brothers are keen to put their money where their mouths are and have signed up to the accreditation scheme, Certified B Corps. The accreditation helps business owners to weigh up their overall environmental commitments against profit. On paper they are legally bound to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, fresh produce suppliers, community, and the environment and distil the outcome into an action plan.
Vegan cheese, pasta & pizza production
Although we think of vegan cheese as a newcomer tofu has been manufactured since the 1500s, even though it is technically not a cheese. Attempts at making vegan replacements for more conventional cheeses started more recently, where tofu and ground nuts were combined to give a soft cheese texture. However, because traditional cheese is a complex product, which is prey to factors including fermentation, enzyme ratio, and microbial activity it is much more difficult to mimic than meat or milk. In the pioneering days of vegan cheese, it was almost impossible to recreate the melting, stringiness of cheese that customers love so much. Over time and after much innovation manufacturers have solved these problems using combinations of a variety of plant foods, including nuts, soy, tapioca starch, seeds, root vegetables and oils among others.
By chance the two mainstays of Italian cuisine, pasta, and pizza, are generally straightforward to convert to a vegan alternative. Dried pasta is already vegan and fresh pasta, which usually contains eggs, can be made by substituting olive oil and a little water for the eggs. Similarly, pizza dough, made from flour, yeast, olive oil and a little water needs little adaptation to create a vegan version. Wholesalers now routinely stock vegan mozzarella as a topping, along with other vegan cheese.
As the enthusiasm for veganism is earnestly played out in the country’s kitchens it must be kept in mind that the numbers of vegans who return to eating meat is substantial, although there are few reliable statistics. The meat vs. plant clash will continue.