DDespite their growing ubiquity in Australian supermarkets, vegan products are still significantly more expensive than their meat-based counterparts, according to a new study by consumer advocacy group Choice.
The investigation looked at products across the entire line of grocery store aisles, from guacamole to fruit pies, and found that processed vegan items were marked up to double.
In the most glaring case, a mayonnaise marketed as vegan costs almost 40% more than its “regular” alternative, although both contain only plant-based ingredients.
“Obviously, there may be manufacturing reasons why [vegan products] could be more expensive to produce, ”says Rachel Clemons, Senior Food Journalist at Choice. “Some ingredients may be a little more expensive, or there may be different processing methods or distribution costs.
“But we think there is sometimes a price premium added because of the claim that something is vegan.”
The opportunism of brands is a clear factor, Clemons says, especially as plant-based diets become more and more mainstream.
Choice also surveyed over 1,000 Australians about their attitudes and perceptions towards plant-based foods, and found that one in 10 Australians would consider going vegan in the next five years. A study from the University of Adelaide found that one in five Australians “make a conscious effort to reduce their meat consumption.”
Clemons compares the price premium, known as the vegan tax, to the gluten-free boom of the early 2010s, which saw brands take advantage of a popular health fad. “With products that didn’t even contain gluten in the first place – when the gluten-free label was made on the label, that seemed to justify a price increase as well.”
Sophia Lekkas, who was vegan for six years before switching to vegetarianism earlier this year, experienced the cost of a plant-based diet.
“Having vegan and non-vegan products side by side on the shelves is frustrating, because non-vegan products are much cheaper,” says the 25-year-old. “Visually, you can see right in front of you that it’s more expensive to be vegan. “
“I sometimes avoid these things because I don’t want to spend $ 8 on a bar of chocolate that I’m going to finish in a day.”
Yet Lekkas has found that the increasingly mainstream status of veganism makes herbal purchases more accessible, despite the price.
“At first, herbal alternatives weren’t as popular… it wasn’t really popular to buy vegan things at the supermarket. While now you go to the stores and even the Coles bakery section there are vegan croissants.
“The word vegan or vegetable is everywhere – it’s very, very obvious. “
For Raveena Grover, who has also been an intermittent vegan for six years, it’s about negotiating the trade-off between ease and cost, especially when it comes to the frozen food department.
“You can definitely make things like vegan sausage rolls at home with cheaper ingredients.” [but more work] – it depends on how much you want to treat yourself.
Grover and Lekkas both point to vegan cheese as a product they are happy to shell out for, and an example of how the growing adoption of plant-based practices among all Australians has increased consumer choice.
“Every time vegans see vegan cheese, it’s like the doors of heaven open,” says Grover. “After not being able to eat cheese for so many years, or just having one brand and using it, being able to find more and more vegan dairy packages… is really exciting.”
As with other common products, Grover has a tip for avoiding the vegan premium: Ditch the supermarket chains altogether.
“Asian cultures have a lot of food that’s already vegan – if you go to the Asian grocer, you’ll have cans of soy imitation meat that are just as good as what you get at Coles or Woolworths.
“Just because it isn’t packaged with a fancy label doesn’t mean it can’t be eaten all the same. “