The vegan food market is booming – but this growth doesn’t occur evenly across the world.
More than 20% of food launches in the UK in 2020 were vegan, according to data from Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), making it the world leader.
This figure was 18% for Germany, 16% for Poland, and 15% for the Netherlands – but just 11% for the US.
And even US companies, including Domino’s and Starbucks, have debuted vegan versions of popular products in Europe before launching them in their domestic markets.
“A lot of it is down to culture,” Ed Bergen, food and drink analyst at market-research company Mintel, told Insider.
John Schoolcraft, global chief creative officer at Swedish oatmilk brand Oatly, said European consumers have a better understanding of the climate crisis, and are reducing their meat and dairy consumption because of the industries’ impacts on this.
But the number of vegans in the UK hasn’t actually changed much in recent years, Bergen said, and remains at between 1 and 2%.
“The vegan trend, funnily enough, isn’t about vegans at all,” Bergen explained.
Instead, non-vegans are helping fuel the plant-based boom, he said. This is partially due to the rise in “flexitarian” diets, where people try to reduce their meat and fish consumption without committing to a vegan diet, and is part of the reasons why brands are increasingly changing their wording from “vegan” to “plant-based.”
In the UK, around 41% of people are either meat- or poultry-free, or actively reducing their meat consumption, Bergen said, citing Mintel data.
Eating a more plant-based diet is “becoming mainstream,” Schoolcraft said.
Increased demand is leading to better products
People overwhelmingly claim that they’re reducing their meat consumption for health, environmental, and animal welfare reasons – but it’s actually the taste of plant-based food that’s luring consumers, Bergen and Schoolcraft both said.
“The products have to be great,” Schoolcraft said. “If the products don’t taste great, no one’s gonna end up buying them.”
Consumers want more plant-based products, and brands are making better products, Bergen said.
“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario – which is a funny way to describe this trend,” he said.
Whereas previously the plant-based market was dominated by a group of leading brands, grocery chains recently have ramped up their efforts in launching private-label plant-based products, Bergen said. This means that plant-based products are becoming cheaper and more accessible to mainstream consumers – and because of the rising competition, the overall quality of the products is improving, too, Bergen and Schoolcraft both said.
Grocery stores are now offering key shelf space for plant-based products. In the past, these were displayed primarily in a separate area for speciality diets, but they are now better integrated with other products on the dairy and ready meal aisles, Bergen said. This includes Tesco, Britain’s biggest grocery chain, which said it’s aiming to sell four times as many plant-based meat alternatives in 2025 as it did in 2018.
In the US, in contrast, “it’s so embedded in the culture to eat meat, fish, seafood,” Bergen explained, though he noted that California and New York have more plant-based innovation that the South and Midwest.
But this is changing as plant-based food consumption rises in the US. Oatly has recently partnered with Starbucks to launch two new oatmilk-based drinks across the US, and it splashed out on its first ever Super Bowl commercial in February.
Customers ultimately look the same for the same attributes in plant-based products in both Europe and the US, Schoolcraft said. This is why Oatly uses the same branding strategy in both continents, he added.
“I think consumers are looking for the same thing – products that blow them away, brands that don’t feel so corporate and more human, brands that actually care about the same sort of values they care about.”