Opinion: Understanding the vegan craze and how to capitalise on it

Many consumers who seek to make healthier, more sustainable lifestyle decisions are increasingly gravitating toward vegan and plant-based diets. In response, food companies everywhere are expanding their product portfolios to meet this demand, whether it is creating vegan meat, dairy-free cheese and of course, plant-based desserts. Anne Marie Halfmann, director of regional marketing at Dawn Foods, tells us more.

By 2025, the vegan industry is expected to be a $22 billion market. Millennials and Gen Z largely drive this trend – while only 2.5% of Americans over the age of 50 consider themselves to be vegetarian, 7.5% of Millennials and Gen Z have eliminated meat from their diets entirely. 

Flexitarian diets, those that cross between consuming vegan, vegetarian and occasionally animal products, are also on the rise. Approximately 6% of US consumers say they are fully vegan, but 90% of plant-based consumers are not vegetarian or vegan. 

With these three diets trending across most consumers, there is a widespread opportunity for food makers and bakeries to have a place in these growing preferences. 

The case for vegan 

Food production accounts for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and meat and dairy are responsible for twice as much planet-heating carbon pollution as plant-based foods. More consumers are going vegan to reduce this negative environmental impact. 

Vegan foods can also provide a more balanced diet rich in fibre, vitamins and vital nutrients. Specifically, vitamin C and magnesium are mostly found in fruits and vegetables and are primary sources for a plant-based diet. The use of vegan products in desserts can offer better-for-you sweet alternatives that meet consumers’ evolving lifestyle choices.

Finally, animal welfare is a concern for many consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z. They seek to limit animal-based products that have come under scrutiny in recent years, such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey.

Barriers to overcome 

According to the FDA, a vegan product does not contain any ingredients of animal origin. This includes baking staples such as milk, eggs, honey and gelatin, which often do not have a simple substitute. To create vegan baked goods, bakers and manufacturers require different formulations.

As more consumers adopt a vegan lifestyle, the food industry has conducted extensive research and development to overcome some of the challenges that baking vegan requires. Many companies can now supply bakery manufacturers, grocers, bakeries and more with vegan mixes, such as cakes, muffins, cookies and donuts that only require water to be added to the mixes, making the baking process much easier and faster. This is more important than ever amidst growing labour shortages across the industry. 

Bakers can also incorporate other common ingredients and sweetener substitutes such as maple syrup, flax, applesauce, bananas and tofu. These substitutes help vegan products taste just as great as their non-vegan counterparts while also offering a similar look and texture. 

As a final consideration, food makers should also examine the oils they use to fry their products. To produce a fully vegan donut, for example, frying oils should be vegetable-based, such as soy or palm.

Vegan is here to stay

The sales of vegan and plant-based foods and desserts will continue growing, especially beyond the ‘entry’ categories of plant-based milk and meat alternatives. With enhanced research and development in this space, there will continue to be a wider selection of offerings.

Items such as cheeses, eggs and bread will become more mainstream, and vegan bakery items will expand beyond niche bakeries as consumers continue to seek more plant-based options to meet their lifestyle needs.

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