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Vegan Food Consumption Growth - Passing Trend or the 'New Normal'?

By Global Vegans

Even before the Covid19 pandemic struck, forcing people to lock-down at home, experts had already predicted plant-based sales growth in 2020. The pandemic has led to increased sales of food products in general, and the plant-based sector has shared in this growth.


Plant-based foods have been increasing in popularity in recent years, with a growing number of retailers selling an expanding line of products. Indeed, plant-based food is becoming more mainstream!

According to the Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association, the sector had reached a market value of $5billion before the pandemic, an increase of almost 30% in the previous two years.


The healthy aspect of plant-based diets has also fuelled recent growth, with the pandemic making consumers more health-conscious. This attitude was evident even before the Covid19 outbreak, with a 2018 study by Dupont Nutrition & Health concluding that over 50% of consumers stated that eating plant-based meals made them feel more healthy.


The Covid19 pandemic has emphasized this attitude towards healthy eating. More people are turning to organic foods because they believe they are healthier and better for their immune systems than non-organic foods. Data from SPINS highlights the recent boom in plant-based foods, and it goes on to predict even higher demand during and following the pandemic. Key findings from the SPINS data were as follows:


•    Plant-based food growth rates were higher than general food during the pandemic.
•    Sales of plant-based foods in Mar20 increased by 90% on the previous year (partly attributed to 'panic' buying in Mar20).
•    Sales of plant-based foods for Apr20 increased by 27% on the previous year.
•    Sales for Apr20 35% faster than general food items.
•    Plant-based meat sales increased by 148% compared to the previous year.
•    Plant-based meat sales grew twice as fast as their conventional equivalents.
•    Sales of refrigerated plant-based meat in Mar20 increased by 241% compared to 2019 (partly attributed to 'panic' buying in Mar20).
•    Sales of refrigerated plant-based meat for Apr20 increased by 113% on the previous year.
•    Plant-based cheese sales were up 95% in Mar20 compared to the previous year, leveling to a 54% increase in the four weeks after that.
•    Tofu and tempeh sales increased by 88% in March compared to the previous year, leveling to a 35% increase in the four weeks after that.


This data is proof that consumers consider plant-based foods to come from safe sources. Compare this to the perception that meat-based foods have got at the moment. Scientists have already discovered that the virus originated in a market where animals were traded and that the virus spread from animals to humans.


Many meat processing plants have had to shut down because of crowded working conditions. This shut-down has not been the case for plant-based food production units, which need less staff and can practice social distancing. This situation has reinforced consumer faith that plant-based food is better for human health and provides better conditions for its workers. Moreover, many consumers are now starting to lend an ear to the long-held claim of plant-based food companies, that large-scale meat production poses risks to the environment and human health.


The recent growth in plant-based food sales is impressive, but it is a challenge to work out its meaning. As stated earlier, plant-based food sales were on an upward trajectory before the pandemic, so has this recent situation accelerated what would have been organic growth anyway? Perhaps the pandemic will prove to be a spike, and the market will correct itself when we get back to 'normal'? 


What is for sure is that plant-based manufacturers are increasing production, new distribution channels are opening up, product choice is widening and the general public are not only more aware but also more open to the idea of buying plant-based food over meat. For instance, Impossible Foods has seen an eighteen-fold increase in sales so far in 2020, growing from having products in around 150 stores to being in 2,700 retail outlets nationwide.


Given the growth figures, it isn't easy to think anything other than plant-based food consumption will endure. The growth figures for tofu and tempeh, two stalwarts of vegan diets, indicate that all age groups are embracing the plant-based food revolution. 


Of course, we will not know long-term uptake in plant-based food consumption for sure until the pandemic has passed. Only then will we know if these particular plants shed their new, quickly-sprouted green leaves of growth, or will they continue to grow and become the 'new normal?'

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