Meating demand: ‘Green shoots’ of optimism for investors

Veganism is on the rise, and never more so than during 2020, where there’s been a record take-up of people swearing off animal and animal-derived products in favour of plant-based alternatives. When Californian vegan food tech company Beyond Meat went public with a bang back in May 2019 – with shares soaring to 163% on its first day of trading – it suddenly sparked a tangible interest in investment opportunities in veganism. Still in its infancy, the company’s share prices have had their ups and downs, but either way, the green trend appears to be here to stay.

Plant the seed

The earliest records of vegetarianism as a concept and practice were found in cultures in India and Greece – yet it wasn’t until 1944 that ‘vegan’ was created (from the first three and last two letters of the word ‘vegetarian’) by Donald Watson, who later went on to found The Vegan Society. His first newsletter, The Vegan News, was sent to just 25 subscribers – there are now over 600,000 vegans, or around 1.16% of the population, in the UK alone,1 with non-profit organisation Veganuary reporting that it’s had over 1 million participants sign up to its plant-based pledge since 2014, in 192 different countries.2

According to the 2014 report of Ripened by human determination, ‘veganism’ is described as “[…] a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. People choose to go vegan for varying reasons: to prevent the exploitation of animals, to improve their fitness and/or diet, or to lower their carbon footprint.

Paradigm shift

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, where many people have, at times, found themselves without their daily essentials, an unexpected knock-on effect has been that some shoppers have been diverted to picking up vegan alternatives. While many vegans and veggies are happy to find these in a dedicated aisle, some larger supermarkets choose to place them adjacent to their meat-based counterparts – the idea being that the largest customer base is flexitarians and people looking to reduce their meat consumption.3

With 20% of Brits reducing their meat and dairy intake over the course of 2020, this noticeable shift towards a more plant-based diet is serving to boost a much longer-term trend, and the share prices of listed vegan food companies (or companies with a major vegan product offering) are consequently reaping the rewards. Ipsos Mori polling, commissioned by the Vegan Society in 2015 and 2019, reported that in 2018 there were as many as 600,000 vegans in the UK, compared to just 150,000 in 2014. In Finder’s research in April this year, they reported that a staggering 12 million Brits are aiming to be meat-free by 2021.

Fast and furious food

Many food outlets are capitalising on this surge in demand for vegan fast food, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Nando’s and Pizza Hut, and restaurants that took part in the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme were likewise able to do their bit to boost the economy with their plant-based options. According to bakery chain Greggs Plc Q4 tracking update published at the start of this year, sales for 2019 were 13.5% up from 2018 – boosted in part by demand for its vegan sausage rolls. Greggs subsequently added to its vegan range by launching a meat-free version of the popular steak bake and, more recently, a vegan glazed ring doughnut.

While the likes of KFC and Burger King are a little late to the plant-based party, places such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have really upped their game in recent years, offering a bigger range of vegan dishes than might be expected. Other popular chain restaurants, such as JD Wetherspoon, Wagamama and Pizza Express, even have their own dedicated vegan menus, which is undoubtedly a sign of the times.

With the number of trademarks registered for new vegan food and drink products in the UK doubling to an all-time high in 2019, and latest figures showing a 128% increase from 2018 to 2019 for companies successfully applying for trademarks for everything from ice cream to meat-free burgers, the plant-based food market is expected to keep growing and growing.4 Lettuce jokes aside, the future just might be vegan.

Sources:

1 Ipsos Mori Surveys, commissioned by The Vegan Society, 2016 and 2019, and The Food & You surveys, organised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the National Centre for Social Science Research (Natcen).

2 Veganuary website: www.veganuary.com

3 Food & Living Vegan website: www.veganfoodandiving.com

4 The Guardian news article: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/jul/25/uk-demand-for-new-vegan-food-products-soars-in-lockdown

St. James’s Place and Wellesley Wealth Advisory do not take a corporate position on veganism, nor is it incorporated in their Environment, Social and Governance criteria or Responsible Investment strategies.