Professor Kate Robinson: ‘Veganism and the Choice for Producers’

To launch KBS’s contribution to the UN PRME 10th Anniversary events with their focus on food, Catherine Robinson reflects on Veganuary and the rising demand for plant-based products  

The benefits of plant-based diets are felt by both consumers and the wider environment.  While the main motivation for following a vegan diet is often ethical, vegan diets are generally cheaper and healthier. Vegans and vegetarians are on average less likely to suffer from obesity and associated complications. Fewer health issues and a healthier workforce mean lower pressure on healthcare provision and improvements in workforce productivity.

In addition, the costs of meat-eating are not only felt by individuals but also by the environment. But to what extent are we as consumers responding to these social and environmental pressures?

In the UK, around 2% of the population are vegan with a further 6% being vegetarian; however, around 12% are flexitarian – largely vegetarian but occasionally eating meat or fish. Together this suggests around 20% of the population are committed to low or no meat and fish diets with plenty of variation among different groups, for example women and young people.

In the hotels and restaurants sector, the social nature of eating suggests that greater diversity in dietary needs shapes the choice of where to eat. So we have seen greater attention paid to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free menus, creating an opportunity for restaurants and food producers to bring innovative products to market, leading to the development of new market niches in the food production and service sector.

The negative image of traditional vegans is being overcome but finding the middle ground in attracting the wider market without alienating traditional vegans is a challenge for vegan food producers.

However, the growth in more sustainable food products will lead to productivity benefits, creating a direct incentive for firms to innovate while food producers should be able to reap these benefits.

For the consumer such innovations will lead to greater choice in food products available for everyone, omnivores and vegans alike. There should be other benefits from consumers feeling they’re able to make more ethical choices as well as improvements in their health. In addition, this could lead to lower food costs. However, research also suggests that in appealing to the larger omnivore market by requiring plant-based products to be more ‘meat-like’, vegan food production may face higher costs and price their products in line with direct substitutes (some of which may be meat- or fish-based products).

So, while the move to greater veganism uptake should be viewed positively from the point of view of choice, innovation, environmental and health benefits, it’s less clear that another benefit will be lower prices.

As part of the UN PRME 10th Anniversary celebrations, Kent Business School, in conjunction with the University’s Right to Food campaign will be hosting a number of student-led events beginning in February 2023 to raise awareness of food security and reducing food waste. Look out for further information.

See the full blog post, of which this is an edited version