Vegan trends put pressure on mainstream marketplace

“Dairy-free, cheddar-flavoured cheese.” This particular combination of words might not sound appealing to the average South African, but to some vegans its allure is undeniable.

Over the past few years, and particularly in recent months, Woolworths has been populating its shelves with products like this: vegan alternatives to conventional food items. For these items to be considered vegan, they must not contain any animal products — no dairy, no eggs, no honey.

There is little data on veganism in South Africa, but Woolworths says its decision to offer these products has to do with “a shift in customers’ habits towards a plant-based way of eating”.

“As with any new product range, we always consider local and global trends as well as customer feedback to inform new product development,” said Richard Stockley, head of innovation for Woolworths food.

Veganism is certainly trending. New York-based restaurant consultancy group Baum + Whiteman forecast that “plant-based” would be the number-one food trend of 2018.


Anna Jordan, the director of the South African Vegan Society, agrees that more South Africans are making the transition to a vegan diet. This has led to a definite increase in the demand for vegan food products in recent years, she said.

Embracing the vegan community is regarded as making good business sense.

A 2017 Forbes article, titled “Here’s why you should turn your business vegan in 2018”, cites a number of indicators that “veganising” has the potential to boost business, including the fact that the global vegan cheese market is estimated to be worth just under $4-billion by 2024.

Woolworths, like other retail companies in South Africa, has struggled in the wake of the country’s recent economic instability. But, although the company’s fashion, beauty and home sections performed poorly in the 2017-2018 financial year, Woolworths’ food continued to trade ahead of the market.

In the company’s annual financial statements, Woolworths credited a “focus on quality an innovation” for its food aisles delivering this positive result.

Retail analyst Ron Klipin calls Woolworths a “disruptor in the market”.

“They are way ahead of their competitors in terms of fresh and prepared foods.”

Klipin said he is not surprised by the retailer’s decision to offer more vegan food items, especially considering the growing demand for health foods.

Although Stockley did not offer any details on how Woolworths has measured the success of its vegan range, he did indicate that customers have “responded well” to it.

With South Africa entering a technical recession it seems incongruous that consumers with smaller wallets would still seek out costly vegan products.

But a vegan diet that excludes expensive substitutes for foods, such as dairy products, does not necessarily cost more than that of a meat eater’s diet.

According to Statistics South Africa meat prices rose 9% between April 2017 and April 2018 — a fact that might make adjusting to a vegan diet attractive to those wanting to cut their food costs.

But a vegan diet that relies heavily on food substitutes can be on the more expensive side. Take some of the most popular vegan alternatives: almond milk, dairy-free cheese, vegan burgers or soy yoghurt.

At Woolworths a basket of these items would cost R195.92. The cost of the equivalent containing animal products is R144.41.

The only vegan substitute that costs less than its counterpart is the burger patty at R54.99, compared with the R89.99 for the beef version.

The cheapest basket is the vegetarian one, which comes to R109.41.

However, Woolworths relies on a client base that is willing to fork out a little more than the average South African on certain food items.

“If you look at Woolworths’ target market, most of their consumers have that sort of money to spend,” Klipin said.

The company can afford to price up these products, Klipin added, because its competition is “well behind” in terms of offering healthy and fresh foods.

Jordan said that increased competition is vital to the vegan movement. She noted that these consumers are economically diverse and so not all of them are willing to spend more on food.

“We’re not very happy about paying more. We don’t want to. But at the present time we are relieved that there are those choices,” Jordan said.

For now the idea is to put pressure on retailers, she added. “As the vegan population grows, we are hoping to see prices drop.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories

Corruption allegations: It’s a family affair at Dihlabeng municipality

The mayor, her relatives and their friends keep landing lucrative tenders and using state resources. Yet Lindiwe Makhalema has failed to declare the list of her relationships with people and companies benefiting from the municipality

Covid-19 and the food industry: ‘I had a wobble last week, I was gatvol’

Heather Van Harte, who runs a small catering business, is changing her cooking habits during the lockdown, and has plans to start a food garden

Coronavirus hammers global growth 

South Africa’s mining and manufacturing sectors are predicted to be down for the first quarter of 2020 because of low demand from China 

In defence of chicken soup

What happens when cultural traditions conflict with the ethical imperative to give up meat?

The good, the bad and the vegan

There’s a global push for people to become vegans, or at least eat less meat, to reduce their carbon footprint

‘Game Changers’ review: What’s the beef?

‘The Game Changers’ is a peculiar trip down the path of athletes on a plant-based diet that has got everyone else in a tizzy
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday