Vegan Food: The Limitation Of Imitation

August 23, 2018


The rise of the meat-free market

While attending the Just V Show in London – an event centred on plant-based living – I noticed something glaringly obvious about this burgeoning industry. For a sector which caters to those who shun the meat and dairy industries, the products take a lot of inspiration from them. Whether it’s the (not) hog roast, the plant steak or even just air quotes used to establish the curried ‘goat’ is indeed goat free, the vast majority of products I saw were animal based imitations. But is this business model sustainable, and is the vegan food and drink sector limiting itself to being a poor imitation of an omnivore diet?

While vegans have been around for some time, they have only entered the mainstream consciousness fairly recently and their ascent has been rapid. The number of vegans, as a percentage of the UK population, has risen from 1% in 2016 to 7% in 2018 (research from Ipsos MORI and respectively), and vegetarians make up a further 14%. But despite the growth, vegans and vegetarians are, as academic Sachi Edwards describes, a ‘minority food culture’¹.



Our addiction to animal products

I have been vegan for a year and a half, and although there is certainly a lot more vegetables in my diet than before, I do find myself trying to replicate my previous food habits. Faux meat, fish, milk, cheese and even eggs. I didn’t realise how big an impact eating animal products has had - not only on my diet choices but on my life as a whole - until I was without them. They are a part of our culture, family and social life, and so many celebratory occasions are centred on their consumption. On my first vegan Christmas I felt an odd sort of bereavement not partaking in the turkey and pigs in blankets, which had little to do with how they tasted. As Edwards observes, “[f]or many, meat is not only nice tasting, but it is a cultural norm and a connection to happy memories… food is a way of reminiscing in a familiar experience”¹.

Faux-animal products can allow vegans and vegetarians to partake in the culture around them – to eat similar meals as their counterparts - without feeling marginalised. It also greatly helps with a transitional period, when people are only just branching out into more plant-based cuisine. And, considering the largest market for meat alternatives is not in fact vegetarians and vegans, but omnivores looking to reduce their meat consumption, it does make sense to keep these plant based products familiar.



What challenges will the future hold?
The danger is in the long term, the industry will limit itself to poor imitation. The number of vegans and vegetarians will continue to increase, and as this community matures it is essential the plant-based food industry matures with them. This should be the time for brands looking for a piece of the ‘vegan pound’ to innovate and expand and avoid the obvious route of repackaged vegetables with an inflated price tag, and bland meal deal options.

And even if the drive from consumers doesn’t prompt change, plant-based food companies may have change thrust upon them. In some countries, such as the US and Germany, the meat industry has embraced the opportunity and diversified into the meat-alternative market – a market which will be worth an estimated $5.8bn globally by 2020.²  France, however, is moving to protect its meat and animal product industry – banning the use of animal product names (such as milk, sausage and steak) for plant-based products. Such protectionist moves would make it essential for the vegan food and drink market to leave the shadow of its animal product counterparts.


How Impact can help

Impact specialises in helping companies to ensure their portfolio remains in tune with the needs of today’s consumer, whether this is through extensions to complement the existing range or innovations that ultimately help re-shape and inform the category. If you’d like to explore your business challenges and potential opportunities with us, get in touch at +44 (0)1932 226 793 or email


A final thought
The word “meat” comes from the Old English “mete”, which directly translates to food.³  It may be some time before we’re able to untangle the two from each other.


¹ Edwards, S, 2013. Living in a Minority Food Culture: A Phenomenological Investigation of Being Vegetarian/Vegan. Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 7, No.1, 111-125.

² Perkins, C, 2018. Global meat alternatives market 'worth $5.8bn by 2020'. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2018].

³ Online Etymology Dictionary, 2018. Online Etymology Dictionary. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 22 July 2018].




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