More Australians taking up vegan and vegetarian diets

4 May 2019

The number of new food products launched in Australia with vegan labelling has almost tripled in the past five years as veganism continues to rise in Australia.

In response to the growing trend, mainstream restaurants and fast food chains are now offering vegetarian and vegan choices – McDonalds this week announced the return of its McVeggie burger in South Australia.

New figures from research company Roy Morgan show that almost 2.5 million Australians or 12.1 per cent of the population now have diets where almost all the food is vegetarian. This is up from 2.2 million in 2014.

While figures on the exact number of vegans in Australia are not easy to quantify, Vegan Australia estimates there are about 400,000 to 500,000 vegans nationwide.

Many of them are young women concerned about animal welfare and animal cruelty.

A vegan diet involves eating no animal products at all.

Director Greg McFarlane says Vegan Australia's Facebook page has about 30,000 followers, 75 per cent of which are women aged 20-35 years.

"It is very hard to get exact numbers. About 400,000 to 500,000 people in Australia would be vegan, that's our best estimate," Mr McFarlane says.

He points to Google trends which show that in the past 12 months Australia was number two worldwide for the most searches for the word vegan. Within Australia most searches were in Victoria, followed by South Australia and Tasmania.

In a five-year period Australians topped the list of searches for the word veganism.

Recent animal rights protests around Australia focused the spotlight on vegans and Storyful research shows an increasing number of Facebook and social media sites focused on the issue, along with school tuckshops now offering vegan options.

Analysis of the food sector provides some insight into what is a rapidly growing market.

Global market research firm Mintel tracks new products and its data shows that the number of new vegan food products on the market is rising.

Mintel's South Asia Pacific head of insights, Jane Barnett, said their Global New Products Database (GNPD), which updates daily on new products launched into the market, shows an increasing number of products carrying a vegan label.

She said in Australia so far this year 8.7 per cent of new products carry a vegan claim. This is up from 5.9 per cent in 2016 and just 3.2 per cent in 2014. This refers to packaging which labels it a vegan product or one which contains no animal ingredients.

"You can really see that it has been significantly growing over the last five years. I think it is really reflective of how people's lifestyles are changing," Ms Barnett said.

She said Mintel had also researched how Australians planned to change their lifestyles – 14 per cent said they were planning to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and 22 per cent said they were intending to reduce their meat intake.

Industry research firm, IBISWorld, says based on current trends the number of people following a vegan diet is expected to continue rising in the next five years.

IBISWorld senior industry analyst, James Caldwell, says one of the main drivers is that vegan products are becoming more palatable and more affordable followed by health and environmental concerns.

At the same time meat consumption is stagnant however he says one interesting factor is that demand for poultry is increasing.

"We can see meat consumption overall is stagnant. Beef consumption is falling, while demand for cheaper, healthier meats (poultry and lean pork) is rising. These meats are generally healthier, cheaper and friendlier to the environment than beef, and have benefited from the same trends driving sales of vegan foods," Mr Caldwell says.

When Bronwyn Currie's eldest daughter announced she was becoming a vegan, aged about 18, the Melbourne woman's first thoughts turned to the challenge of preparing vegan meals.

She encouraged all members of the family – she has five children now aged 13 to 21 years – go away and do some research and come back with a position.

Meanwhile she continued to make a variety of different meals.

"One day we realised no-one is actually eating the meat on the table and we realised we were essentially entirely a vegan family," Ms Currie says.

"We looked at how food is processed, what at the slaughterhouses and we were horrified, we were absolutely horrified at animals abused and tortured and exploited.

"No-one in my family was prepared to do that anymore so we all became vegan as we don't want to be responsible for the exploitation of animals. We chose to do something about it through our food ethics.

Ms Currie then joined the Animal Justice Party where she is now campaigning in the Melbourne seat of Isaacs.

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