A facility packed with thousands of chickens Buying plant-based alternatives will drive up demand and drive down the cost - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

Vegan Meat Price Parity: Why Cost Not Kindness Will End Animal Agriculture

'It’s likely that ‘price parity’ between plant-based and animal-derived meats will see the quickest changes made to our food system

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8 Minutes Read

It will be cost not kindness that ends animal agriculture – but when will we achieve vegan meat price parity?

As much as we care for animals, it’s likely that “price parity” between plant-based and animal-derived meats will see the quickest changes made to our food system

We love cheap food. When asked, we nearly always say we prefer to buy products that are ethical, sustainable, and healthy. But research shows time and again that what actually drives most of our food choices are cost, convenience, and taste.

Most of all, it’s the price. 

Vegan meat price parity

That’s why the question of price parity is a hot topic in plant-based food. With price, especially a cheap price, such a driving force in our food choices, the cost of plant-based meats really matters.

Right now, supermarket customers are paying almost 200 percent more for plant-based products in comparison to meat alternatives. 

It’s also why the European dairy lobby is trying to stop plant-based products being sold in “dairy” packaging. If plant-based providers have to use different packaging, this could make plant-based alternatives more difficult to produce and, critically, more expensive to buy.

But lessons from other industries (such as electric cars) show that as technology develops and demand increases, price parity will arrive. But for plant-based meat products, when will that be? Can it really bring an end to the slaughter-based meat products that are currently cheaper and purchased more often?

‘Cheap food paradigm’

We love cheap food. As the UK government’s Behavioral Insights Team wrote in their report A Menu For Change, price (alongside convenience and taste) is the most important factor for people when shopping. This includes for healthier alternatives.

This isn’t our fault. Supermarkets, advertising, and government policies have spent 70 years creating what food expert Professor Tim Lang calls our “cheap food paradigm.”

This is especially in the UK and US. Along with Singapore, these are the three cheapest food markets in the world. In the UK, we spend only eight percent of our household budget on food. This is the cheapest in Western Europe. Greeks spend 16 percent, Peruvians 26 percent, and Nigerians 59 percent.

But when you learn that the UK also has the highest food poverty in Europe in terms of people being able to afford a healthy diet, you know something is wrong.

This cheap food paradigm emerged during World War 2. Farmers were asked to grow more food, quickly and cheaply. They were the heroes feeding a country at war, and rebuilding afterward. 

Farmers were doing what they were asked. They began using heavy chemicals and pesticides. They abandoned rotation farming and replaced them with monocultures. Food got increasingly cheap. There were supermarket price wars (continuing today). We lost touch with the true cost of food.

But at what cost?

The true cost of cheap food is a “spiraling public health crisis and environmental destruction” – according to the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Last month’s Chatham House/UN report drove home the point: “Cheap food is driving destruction of the natural world.” The constant demand for economic growth has “sustained vicious circles” of agricultural efficiency, coupled with “increased economic competition through the liberalization of trade.”

Cheap foods also tend to be more processed. In the UK, we eat the most ultra-processed foods in Europe, nearly 50 percent of our diets. Compare this to around 11 percent in Italy or 16 percent in Portugal. This massively increases the incidence of Type-2 diabetes and other serious health epidemics.

A price transformation

It’s obvious we need a food transformation. And that includes the price we pay for it. 

What we should do is ask those who can afford more to pay more, while supporting those currently in food poverty to be able to buy better. But that’s another article!

We also know that a whole-foods plant-based diet can be much cheaper than a heavily processed, animal-based diet.

Right now, most meat-eaters overestimate the price of plant-based meat products. And they’re not wholly wrong. 

So if we want to see change happen quickly, we have to get people off the slaughter-based meats and into the plant-based aisles. The quickest way to do that is through pricing.

So when will that happen? It will arrive in three stages.

By 2023: Affordable plant-based protein

Back in 2019, the independent think tank Rethink X launched its report on the future of agriculture. 

Its analysis suggested that price parity between existing plant-based meats (for example, the Impossible Burger) and animal-derived meats would arrive sometime between 2021-23. 

When this happened, it wrote, adoption of more plant-based eating “will tip and accelerate exponentially.”

It is why companies such as Impossible Foods keep slashing their prices to drive demand, knowing that “price parity” will increase not only sales but awareness and acceptability. 

Are we close to the tipping point?

At the moment, buying a vegan supermarket product twice a week would cost an additional £35 a year, a spokesperson for Insure4Sport, who produced research on cost comparisons, told The Times.

Right now, the early-adopter vegan and vegetarian or adventurous meat-eater will pay the premium price for the new plant-based alternatives. That won’t last.

The plant-based producers know they need to compete on price. Demand is growing. In 2019, demand for plant-based meats grew by 18 percent and 11 percent for the plant-based category overall, according to a study from The Good Food Institute.

More people than ever now support improved access to plant-based options. New research last week from The Vegan Society showed one in three (32 percent) believe the government should be promoting vegan and plant-based diets to address the current climate emergency.

Bill Gates recently urged people to buy plant-based products and drive down the price. “You can also send a signal to the market that people want zero-carbon alternatives and are willing to pay for them,” he told the BBC.

The supermarkets will drive this difference. If Tesco is setting a target for a 300 percent rise in vegan meat sales, it will still want to compete on price.

So perhaps Rethink X’s prediction that we will reach price parity for existing products by 2023 isn’t far off.

But what about the new world of cell-cultured meat, grown in a lab?

By 2030: Cultured protein

Cell-cultured meat is real meat or dairy but without the animal. It is grown or fermented in vats or produced in other ways without needing animals to die. 

(There is controversy around this claim: early production used serum from slaughtered calves. But new procedures are being developed without any animal deaths.)

Rethink X also predicted there would be 50 percent fewer cows in American agriculture by 2030. It predicted once cows disappeared in America, the rest of the world—and the other animal industries, such as pork and chicken—would follow.

The cause? Not ethics, but technology.

Or rather, what it calls “a protein disruption driven by economics.” In its new “cell-cultured” technologies producing meat and dairy products in labs, would produce “proteins five times cheaper by 2030 … than existing animal proteins.”

This report was theoretical. Was it simply wishful thinking?

Competing on costs

Well, two new studies published earlier this month think it is going to happen by 2030. These studies are based on actual data from existing protein producers.

This research, from the Good Food Institute, suggests “cultivated meat could compete on costs and have a lower environmental footprint compared to conventional meat production in under 10 years.”

The figures are astounding. The life cycle assessment and techno-economic assessment suggest when compared with beef from cows, cultivated meat will produce 92 percent less global warming gases and 93 percent less air pollution, using 95 percent less land. If renewable energy is used, then 78 percent less water is needed too. 

And the coronavirus has only made animal agriculture more expensive, as well as highlighted its critical role as a breeding ground for zoonotic pandemics.

So plant-based burger price parity by 2023. Then cell-cultured burgers by 2030.

By 2035: The end of animal products?

Rethink X argued that not only will we achieve price parity, but that by 2035 cell-based and plant-based alternatives will be 10 times cheaper than defunct animal-derived products.

Motivated by price, it suggests the average family will save more than $1,200 in food costs.

But also, these slaughterless proteins will be superior too: “More nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety… modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace.”

The research commissioned by the Good Food Institute seems to suggest we’re moving in this direction.

From an ethical point of view, as plant-based and slaughter-free foods become the norm, people will be free to wonder how we ever used to kill so many animals, at such a horrific cost.

A long way to go

We’re not there yet. But as individual consumers, buying plant-based alternatives will drive up demand and drive down the cost, meaning regular meat-eaters will pick them up too. 

According to YouGov, nearly a quarter of diehard meat-eaters say they enjoy meat-alternatives. If we make it easier for them on price, that figure will only increase.

We can work together as citizens to put collective pressure on the government. Not least to take up the recommendations in its own Behavioral Insights Team’s report! 

Actions such as incentivizing product innovation, a carbon tax, raising awareness, and creating real value for farmers for their food, will all help reshape our ‘cheap food paradigm’. Then we’ll reach price parity sooner.

So keep buying those sausage, burger, and chicken alternatives. Every time you do, you tell the companies there’s a market. 

Whether it’s 2023 or 2030, price parity will arrive. Then, plant-based meats will be cheaper. When that happens, with all their inherent costs and environmental impacts, animal-derived and slaughter-based meats won’t be able to compete. 

We’re more than consumers of course. But this really is one way we can help shape the future.

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The Author

Dr. Alex Lockwood

Alex Lockwood is a writer and senior lecturer at the University of Sunderland

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vendetta
vendetta
1 year ago

Yea right. ? Animal Products will ALWAYS dominate and be the Superior to the Vegan Plastic that they are selling right now. The reason why they’re so high, is because, NO ONE wants to buy them and/ or likes them! Nice try, but this is FAKE NEWS!!

Darrell Sawczuk
Darrell Sawczuk
1 year ago
Reply to  vendetta

Plenty of people are buying vegan meats and/or other vegan products 🙂

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  vendetta

Plant based meat is healthier than meat from animals. It also takes less resources to produce so it is therefore superior.

vendetta
vendetta
1 year ago

Yea right, Animal Meats/Products will never die away, nor will they ever succumb to the Fake, Processed Vegan Plastic that Impossible/Beyond are selling, as well as Fake 3D Printed Paper that will claim to be Meat, but really won’t be. Just stop, you Vegan’s are outright hideous at your attempts to undermine Animal Agriculture, your attacks are only making the Animal Ag industry stronger and stronger, so I guess Keep it up?

This is all just FAKE NEWS!!

Darrell Sawczuk
Darrell Sawczuk
1 year ago
Reply to  vendetta

You can see at the top of the article that this is an “opinion piece” (providing studies and additional info)

Thank you for giving your opinion

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  vendetta

How is the rise of plant based meat making the animal ag industry stronger? If you can see trends you would see that it is eroding market share and will bring down meat consumption the same way plant based milk cut into cow milk sales. And interest in these things is only growing internationally in meat markets such as China and Brazil. So exporting meat will become a less attractive option as time goes on also.

Meat will become a niche market, expensive, consumed rarely, and only affordable by elites. Which is as it should be. So if you are a farmer, do the smart thing, start producing legumes.

rodentx2
rodentx2
1 year ago

Not ethics? https://www.cleanmeat-hoax.com/throwing-the-animal-movement-under-the-bus.html

Not compassion? Not empathy? As Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, observes:

“Friedrich’s declaration that the plight of animals does not and never will sufficiently move most people to change their diets, since it hasn’t yet done so on a grand scale, is glib and simply gives people a pass to be ethically inert where animals are concerned. It isn’t so much the prospect of cellular meat per se that disturbs me as the coupling of it with the denigration of animal rights activism and of animals themselves.

“If people are being told that the animals don’t really matter and that humans can never change their behavior in this respect, and this message is coming even from animal advocates, then the concerted societal message is just that there is an infinite smorgasbord of ‘food’ products for the human omnivore, and animal advocates have succumbed to the abusers’ viewpoint and everything is as the philosopher George Santayana said about life itself, ‘ashes in the mouth.’”

David Richard Wicks
David Richard Wicks
1 year ago

Great article. What we need to drive change faster is to move subsidies from animal farming to organic and plant based products.

Dylan Wentworth
Dylan Wentworth
1 year ago

If it weren’t for subsidies in the US and all the BS rules about putting that dairy garbage on school menus, that house of cards would fall very quickly.

alex
alex
1 year ago

Thanks David, we definitely need huge investment in fruit and veg farming, especially in the UK.

Bill Smith
Bill Smith
1 year ago

Well, we raise and home process all our animal protein, and I don’t look for that to change. Price may drive the rest of the world, but quality drives it on our homestead.

rodentx2
rodentx2
1 year ago

“Throwing Animals–and Animal Advocacy–Under the Bus” – In 2016, for example, Friedrich wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, entitled, “Vegans’ Bullheaded Beef with Tyson Foods,”in which he openly denigrated the vegans and animal advocates who have criticized him for cozying up to Tyson Foods and other killers of animals. Like Paul Shapiro, Friedrich seems to feel that he should not be accountable to the animal movement. As Karen Davis, the president of United Poultry Concerns, observes:

“Friedrich’s declaration that the plight of animals does not and never will sufficiently move most people to change their diets, since it hasn’t yet done so on a grand scale, is glib and simply gives people a pass to be ethically inert where animals are concerned. It isn’t so much the prospect of cellular meat per se that disturbs me as the coupling of it with the denigration of animal rights activism and of animals themselves.

“If people are being told that the animals don’t really matter and that humans can never change their behavior in this respect, and this message is coming even from animal advocates, then the concerted societal message is just that there is an infinite smorgasbord of ‘food’ products for the human omnivore, and animal advocates have succumbed to the abusers’ viewpoint and everything is as the philosopher George Santayana said about life itself, ‘ashes in the mouth.’”

The Clean Meat lobby has deliberately de-highlighted violence against animals, embracing a marketing strategy that seeks to appeal to consumers’ self-interests. Characteristic is the promotional copy for the Israeli Clean Meat start-up, Aleph Foods, which promotes its cellular meat as follows: “At Aleph Farms, we believe meat is one of life’s pleasures, to be celebrated and enjoyed [but] without the downsides to health and the environment.” “”Finally, meat you can enjoy that’s good for your health, and good for the planet!”
SEE: https://www.cleanmeat-hoax.com/throwing-the-animal-movement-under-the-bus.html

reson8 .
reson8 .
1 year ago

I would be very surprised to see any of this happen so soon. You can spout your morals and ethicality ’til the cows come home but as long as there is such high profit in veganism, there is no reason for vegan ‘meat’ producers to lower their prices.

Matt
Matt
1 year ago
Reply to  reson8 .

Economies of scale will make production cheaper. There will be a tipping point where it is more profitable to lower prices in order to sell an increased volume, as demand increases. Simple economics.

Ottokar
Ottokar
1 year ago

Reality check: where I live vegan burgers cost 3 to 10 (!) times what normal burgers cost. Demand is very low, no change in sight. There will be no scaling. And the pitch for luxury vegan seafood in Seaspiracy is laughable, a joke. Totally ruins the documentary. The big vegan luxury item producers (Impossible, Beyond, Silk, Oatly, Nestle, etc) should use some of their millions $$$ to gain subsidies just like the animal farms – if they really need government help to lower their prices (which I doubt).

Darrell Sawczuk
Darrell Sawczuk
1 year ago
Reply to  Ottokar

The film has been seen by millions, let’s hope through consumer choice, the price of those vegan burgers where you live, start to come down 🙂

Cecil Pierre
Cecil Pierre
4 months ago

Plant based is super awesome dude and it’s the way to go veganism/plantbased totally rocks.

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