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01 November 2018

Vegan businesses dine out on meat-free boom

From broccoli porridge to vegan fish and chips, businesses targeting the growing market of people who follow a vegan diet are big news.

Market researchers Mintel have said the UK market for meat-free food was worth £572m in 2017, up from £539m two years earlier.

Fuelled by social media, documentaries and celebrity endorsements, veganism has been particularly embraced by young people - 41% of vegans were aged 15-34 in 2016, according to the Vegan Society.

In 2006, the number of vegans was estimated at 150,000. Now, depending which survey you go with, it is anywhere between 540,000 and 3.5m.

And it's not just vegans buying vegan products. As well as vegetarians, there is a growing number of "flexitarians", who eat meat but regularly eat "plant-based" meals as well. Research commissioned by Waitrose found that one in five adults in the UK have said they are now following flexitarian diets or reducing the amount of meat in their diets.

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"The market for vegan food has seen explosive growth over the past six years and this shows no sign of stopping," says Dawn Carr, director of vegan corporate projects at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"Many new vegan enterprises are popping up but non-vegan businesses are also increasingly catering to this market."

The FSB's Celebrating Small Business Awards UK small business of the year 2018, Surrey-based superfood brand Creative Nature, began life creating allergen-free healthy snacks as its founder Julianne Ponan, is allergic to nuts.

Operations Manager Matthew Ford says they decided to make all their products vegan-friendly too, because it was a great market opportunity. 

"We wanted to cater for more people, just so that our products were available for more people. The vegan products on the market back then were horrible tasting and often contained a lot of additives," he said.

"We definitely see it as a growing industry and I don't think it will fizzle out. The younger generation seem to be the ones that are driving the vegan movement so the more youngsters that get involved, the more support it's going to get."

He thinks there is plenty of room for further growth - with other vegan businesses, including clothing, beauty products and accessories, taking off and continued innovation in the sector.  

PETA says the vegan fashion movement is also leading the way in developing eco-friendly materials such as "leather" made from pineapple leaves.

Another FSB Celebrating Small Business Award winner, Chorley-based Group 55, which manufactures pet and personal care products, reformulated its popular Animology brand of products this year to be vegan-friendly.

Managing director Stephen Turner said veganism was now filtering down, beyond food, to all aspects of life - including pet care. "Older generations are less likely to relate to the importance of veganism but globally it is the millennials for whom veganism is important - and they are setting the path for future generations."

He says, for Group 55, going vegan was not a commercial decision to drive sales: "It was simply a development to ensure our products represented our brand values and those of our customers and to that end, the change has been hugely successful."

Vegan product launches around the world have more than doubled in the past five years, growing by 175% from July 2013 to June 2018, according to Mintel.  

While Germany has the highest share of vegan food and drink launches at 15% - the UK is a close second on 14%, according to the analysts, with the USA third on 12%.

The boom has seen the Great British Bake Off feature a vegan-themed week for the first time this year, Waitrose launched a dedicated vegan section in more than 130 stores and chains like Wagamama and Marston's Pubs have launched vegan menus.

And it is not just animal welfare concerns fuelling growth. Health is thought to be a key concern for meat-eaters who want to cut down on meat consumption, with a third of the population describing themselves as "flexitarian", according to the BBC. Environmental concerns are also a driver.

Despite much media interest in veganism, meat eaters undoubtedly remain in the majority. The UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Board has said 91% of British households purchase red meat and meat and dairy remain "cornerstones of the British diet". 

However it admits that meat eaters keen to try something new, are among those driving sales of "plant-based" food. 

So, with the market growing - any tips for would-be vegan entrepreneurs? 

Dawn Carr, from Peta, says the most successful cafes and restaurants will be those offering something a bit different: "While falafel and sorbet are nice, the way to a vegan's heart (and stomach) is through exciting dishes like loaded vegan nachos, salted caramel non-dairy ice cream sundaes and 'meaty' vegan cheeseburgers."