The plant-based food market is reaching new heights in Australia, according to consumer advocacy group CHOICE. Vegan and vegetarian products are claiming more space on supermarket shelves – but sometimes, at a greater cost to shoppers.
CHOICE surveyed 1,096 Australians on various topics, including the plant-based ‘revolution’.
Researchers weighted the data to ensure it is representative of the country’s population. This included age, state, sex, household income, and education.
Nine percent of respondents consider themselves to be ‘flexitarian’ – the term coined for those who are mostly vegetarian but sometimes eat meat.
Three percent say they are pescatarian, meaning they eat fish but not other kinds of meat. And five and two percent identify as vegetarian and vegan, respectively.
Notably, more than half (55 percent) of vegan and vegetarian participants said they made the switch in the last five years.
Eleven percent of non-vegans revealed they would consider going fully plant-based in the next five years. Additionally, 29 percent of all participants are already drinking dairy-free milk at least once a week.
And, even those who still eat meat are cutting back. The University of Adelaide reports that 19.8 percent of Australians are actively lowering their meat intake.
It’s fitting then that companies are ramping up their plant-based food production.
Independent think tank Food Frontier has explored this growth, which CHOICE labels ‘exponential’.
Food Frontier’s 2020 State of the Industry report found that Australia’s plant-based meat industry doubled its manufacturing revenue and jobs in 2019-2020.
“The number of new products in supermarkets like meat-free burgers, sausages and ready meals, also doubled in that time, with the category seeing 46 percent sales growth in retail,” said Thomas King, CEO of Food Frontier.
Now, Australian supermarkets offer more than 250 meat alternative products. And more than half of those are made by Australian companies, he adds.
Consumers’ rising inclination for plant-based food is mainly motivated by health, according to a nationally representative survey by market research group Colmar Brunton.
And while the animal-based food industry has tried to thwart claims that vegan substitutes are healthy, some research indicates otherwise.
Last year, Food Frontier conducted a nutritional analysis of processed animal meat and 95 plant-based meat products.
“When compared like-for-like with conventional meat sausages, burgers, bacon and poultry (crumbed and un-crumbed), plant-based meat alternative products are on average nutritionally comparable or superior,” King said.
“For those Aussies seeking to reduce their meat consumption who still want a burger to throw on the barbeque – plant-based meats can serve as a healthier alternative.”
The vegan tax
Around a third (32 percent) of CHOICE’s survey participants identify cost as a barrier to going vegan. The consumer advocacy group noted that processed plant-based foods are ‘often more expensive’ than their meat counterparts.
Unique ingredients and processing methods, lack of economies of scale, and extra distribution costs can push these prices up.
And in some cases, opportunistic marketing has seen companies rolling out existing products with vegan labels, alongside a price increase.
One mayonnaise brand was selling its vegan version for nearly 40 percent more than its original one – even though both were made with plant-based ingredients.