Much of the world is trending towards plant-based eating — and this global shift could be here to stay. Millennials are central drivers of this worldwide shift away from consuming animal products. But the plant-based movement is bigger than any one generation.
Everyone from celebrities to athletes to entire companies including Google and countries as big as China are supporting the movement to eat more plant-based foods. Plant-based eating may not be entirely mainstream yet. But it’s becoming more accepted every day. And this trend is having far-reaching impacts.
Search data from Google Trends shows an impressive worldwide increase in the interest in veganism from 2004 to 2018. Top regions include Israel, Australia, Canada, Austria, and New Zealand.
There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years. According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.
In the UK, the number of people identifying as vegans has increased by 350%, compared to a decade ago, according to research commissioned by the Vegan Society in partnership with Vegan Life magazine.
Veganism was a top search trend in Canada in 2017. And the preliminary draft of Canada’s new Food Guide, released in 2017 by the Canadian government, favors plant-based foods.
In Portugal, vegetarianism rose by 400% in the last decade. This is according to research carried out by Nielsen.
Plant-based diets are growing across Asia. Newdietary guidelines released by the Chinese government encourage the nation’s 1.3 billion people to reduce their meat consumption by 50%. Research predicts that China’s vegan market will grow more than 17% between 2015 and 2020. And in Hong Kong, 22% of the population reports practicing some form of a plant-based diet.
In Australia, between 2014 and 2016, the number of food products launched carrying a vegan claim rose by 92%. And Australia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world.
Mainstream health organizations are recommending a plant-based diet. Including, among others: Kaiser Permanente, the largest healthcare organization in the U.S.; the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; and the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Even Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is asking its suppliers to offer more plant-based products.
While those who go vegan or vegetarian tend to do so for the animals, the planet, their health or some combination thereof, consumers start out choosing their foods based on different criteria.
Taste, price, and convenience are the key factors consumers consider when making food choices, said Caroline Bushnell, senior marketing manager at the Good Food Institute.
People say the burger alternative smells and tastes like real meat. In many grocery stores, you can find Beyond Burgers in the meat section alongside traditional meat products. The company, based in Los Angeles, has won over numerous investors — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Gates, and The Humane Society. Even Tyson Foods, America’s biggest meat processor, bought a 5% stake in the meat alternative company.
Beyond the U.S., Germany is often known for bratwurst and schnitzel. But in 2016, German companies launched more vegan food products than in any other country.
British-Dutch consumer goods behemoth Unilever announced the acquisition of Dutch meat-substitute company The Vegetarian Butcher. Founded by a former cattle farmer, De Vegetarische Slager - “the vegetarian butcher” in Dutch - acquired the sort of a cult status among vegans thanks to its plant-based burgers, nuggets, and hotdogs.
Unilever declared that the acquisition, for an undisclosed amount, “fits its strategy to move into healthier plant-based foods with a lower environmental impact.” Unilever’s acquisition of The Vegetarian Butcher fits also in a larger trend that sees vegan “junk food” replacing traditional meat-based staples of fast-food menus.
Last May, Netherlands-based vegan fast-food company Vivera brought to the UK supermarket chain Tesco its plant-based steak. As reported by Vivera, just under 40,000 steaks had been sold within just a week of being stocked. In the following months, the vegan Dutch company brought its steaks to dozens of other supermarkets across The Netherlands and Belgium.
It is clear that veganism is not going anywhere. Perhaps, the name of the movement will change instead. Although lab-manufactured meat is not seen as vegan, the values and morals behind it are the same in context, and different in detail. It is also important to note that the rise in veganism doesn't mean that meat will go away completely. For some, it is about sustainability and not taking more than you should.
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