Australians Paying Double For Plant-Based Processed Products
Despite their growing ubiquity in Australian supermarkets, vegan products are still significantly more expensive than their meat counterparts, according to new research from consumer advocacy group Choice. The survey looked at products in a wide variety of grocery stores, from guacamole to fruit pies, and found that processed vegan products were priced at twice the price. In the most striking case, mayonnaise marketed as vegan costs almost 40% more than its “regular” alternative, despite the fact that both products contain only herbal ingredients.
“Obviously there could be some manufacturing reasons why [vegan products] might be more expensive to produce,” says Rachel Clemons, Choice senior food reporter. “Some ingredients may be a little more expensive, or there may be other processing methods or distribution costs.”
The actual amount Australians spend on meat each week has fallen since 1989. Brand opportunism is a clear factor, especially as plant-based diets are becoming more mainstream, Clemons said. Choice also surveyed more than 1,000 Australians about their attitudes and perceptions of plant-based foods and found that one in 10 Australians would consider going vegan within the next five years. One in five Australians “are making a conscious effort to reduce meat consumption”, a University of Adelaide study found.
The vegan tax
Clemons compares the surcharge, known as the vegan tax, to the gluten-free boom of the early 2010s, when brands cashed in on popular health fashion. “First, with products that weren’t even gluten-free—when the label made a gluten-free claim, that also justified the price increase.” Sophia Lekkas, who was a vegan for six years before switching to a vegetarian earlier this year, has experienced the cost of a plant-based diet firsthand.
“Having vegan and non-vegan products next to each other on the shelf is disappointing because non-vegan products are much cheaper,” says the 25-year-old. “Visually, you see right in front of you that being a vegan is more expensive.” “Sometimes I avoid these things because I don’t want to spend $8 on a chocolate bar that I eat in a day.” However, Lekkas has found that the growing status of veganism makes plant-based shopping more affordable, despite the price.
“In the early days of veganism, plant-based alternatives weren’t as popular…it wasn’t known that vegan products were available in supermarkets. Now you go shopping, even to Coles bakeries. There are vegan croissants. Bread.” The word vegan or plant-based is everywhere – very, very obvious. ”
Matt Lucas at The Great British Bake Off with Freya Cox, the show’s first vegan contestant. For Raveena Grover, who has also been a vegan for six years, it’s about finding a balance between simplicity and cost, especially when it comes to frozen meals. “You can definitely make things like vegan sausages at home with cheaper ingredients [but more work] – it depends how much you want to treat yourself.”
Both Grover and Lekkas point to vegan cheese as a product they are willing to shell out for and as an example of how the growing prevalence of plant-based practices among all Australians has increased consumer choice. “Whenever vegans see vegan cheese, the gates of heaven open for them,” says Grover. “After not being able to eat cheese for so many years, or having only one brand and resorting to it, being able to find more and more packages of vegan dairy… is really exciting.” As with other mainstream products, Grover has a piece of advice for avoiding the vegan surcharge: cut out chain stores entirely.
“Asian culture has a lot of vegan products – if you go to an Asian grocery store, you’ll get a can of fake soy meat as good as Coles or Woolworths.” Just because it’s not packaged with a ‘fancy label’ doesn’t mean they cannot be eaten the same way.”