Are Australian Manufacturers Prepared for the Rise of Vegan Food?

Jan 10, 2022 by Mark Dingley

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Everywhere you look, it seems that brands are working to make the food dreams of the vegan population come true – vegan cheese, vegan beer, coconut bacon, the list goes on. And why wouldn’t they? With vegan or plant-based lifestyles on the rise around the world, Australians are actually becoming more interested in veganism than any other country.

The Australian vegan packaged food market, as a result, is predicted to be worth an incredible $215 million by 2020 (compared with just $60 million in 2015).

Food manufacturers have been quick to respond with original – and sometimes even surprising – products. In fact, the number of new Australian food products that are labelled as vegan have almost tripled in the past five years.

It’s not enough, however. Food manufacturers in Australia need to think bigger as demand for vegan food continues to exceed supply. This means taking the time to understand the trend, as well as the challenges and opportunities it presents.


Food X-ray

What’s with the plant-based trend?

Let’s start by taking a look at what being ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’ actually means.

A vegan is a person who doesn’t eat or use any products that come from animals. This includes foods like eggs and honey, as well as materials like leather. Instead, their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Plant-based substitute foods – like vegan cheese and lab-grown meat – are also becoming increasingly popular.

Did you know: Winston Churchill published an article predicting that lab-grown meat would help to feed the world – all the way back in 1931!

The main reason that people turned to veganism used to be ethics – they were concerned with where their food came from and what sort of impact it had on people, animals and the environment. These days, people are choosing this alternative diet more for health reasons – they believe they’ll lose weight and feel fitter if they avoid animal products.

It therefore makes sense that Australia’s consumption of red meat is on the decline – and this is partly due to price. Whilst, as a country, we still eat a large amount – in 2017, we consumed a massive 26kg of beef and 9kg of lamb per person – one in three Australians have actually started to limit their meat intake. According to Roy Morgan Research, more than two million Australians now live a completely meat-free life.

The most popular vegan foods tend to be dairy substitutes (such as almond milk), closely followed by sauces, snack products and confectionary.

On top of this has been the rise in ‘fake meat’ - demand for alternative meats is predicted to reach $6.43 billion by 2023 worldwide.

Fast food companies Grill’d, Hungry Jacks and Nandos now offer plant-based burgers alongside their traditional meat offerings. Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths also stock a range of plant-based burgers, whilst Aldi have expanded their Earth Grown range (which is their own-brand plant-based food range).

So, how can Australian food manufacturers win over the vegan market?

1.Bring some new ideas to the table

Whilst Australian SMEs are among the most innovative in the world, Food Innovation Australia has revealed that only 5% of employing food and agribusinesses are what they would consider “businesses of tomorrow”. Australian food manufacturers have some catching up to do it seems...

Plant-based meat is one area that is crying out for innovation. In Australia alone, this sector is estimated to generate more than $3 billion in sales and $1 billion in manufacturing, as well as generate more than 6000 jobs.

Impossible Foods, for example, is a plant-based meat manufacturer based in the US who uses food technology to replicate red meat. Their products are actually being served on Air New Zealand flights.

Then there’s Byron Bay-based Extraordinary Foods’ coconut bacon, which is a vegan and gluten-free snack that has been lauded as a healthy substitute for bacon that is made entirely out of coconut flakes.

Vegan cheese is another area where innovation is thriving. Dairy-type products are worth $83.7 million in Australia, with vegan cheese production having grown by close to 70% over the past couple of years. The number of producers in Australia multiplies each month – there's now even an online store where you can purchase dairy-free cheeses!

Food X-ray Sydney

2. Align your values with those of your customers

It goes without saying that many vegans have a strong social conscience and want to be assured that the brand they’re purchasing from operates with integrity.

Consumers are increasingly concerned with knowing exactly what is in their food and where it’s coming from, as well as wanting to know the nutritional and medicinal qualities, plus the impact had on the environment during production.

This is where labels come in – use them to communicate your brand’s story and include the origins of the food. Extraordinary Foods, for example, uses their labelling to highlight how their organic kale comes from local and sustainable Australian farms.

UK-based brand, This, is a plant-based meat company that has deliberately kept their packaging as authentic and simple as possible. Most of their packaging also uses 90% less plastic, which is right in line with their customers’ values.

3. Market your products (and yourself) intelligently

In your labelling and marketing, focus on the flavour – treat plant-based food the same as you would any other product.

The owner of Soul Burger in Sydney, Amit Tewari, says “we’re careful to not lump plant-based eating with ‘organic’, ‘healthy’, ‘raw’ buzz words, and instead will discuss it as ‘satiating’, ‘flavour’, ‘satisfying’ and ‘gratifying’.”

Research has also shown that more than 50% of people will actually pay more for a product that is made from all-natural ingredients.

4. Keep an eye on plant-based trends

An increasing number of people are looking for indulgence without the guilt when it comes to their diet, and vegan food offers this in spades. High-end manufacturer Divine, for example, are known for their delicious dairy-free dark chocolate and mint Easter egg.

Many celebrities are also getting behind the movement. Beyoncè, for example, advocates for veganism, whilst Richard Branson and Bill Gates both support the development of plant-based meat alternatives. Leonardo DiCaprio is a proud vegan and an investor in plant-based meat brand Beyond Meat, as well as chickpea-based snack brand Hippeas.

Food Metal Detector
Date Marking Food Sydney

There can be no doubt – vegan food provides Australian manufacturers with an exciting opportunity to experiment, innovate and take their brand in a whole new direction. But what’s the best way to get started? Do your own research, and ensure that you understand both your target audience and your competition.

Fortunately, there are industry experts out there who are willing to help. This includes the Monash Food Innovation Centre (FIC) based at Monash University.

Are you an Australian maker and mover looking for more insights and tailored information, both domestically and worldwide? Matthews has got you covered – get in touch with us today!