Opinion: Large Multinationals Are Conquering the Vegan Market. Good Thing or Bad Thing?

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The list of small, medium, large and huge companies that are expanding their categories to include vegan products continues to grow overwhelmingly. From the corner shop to Burger King to Unilever, plant-based capitalism without a doubt is booming on an international level. Many indicators point to a tipping point that will permanently transform the global market.

Between 2010 and 2020, companies producing alternative products to animal-based products raised almost $6 billion, of which more than half was raised in 2020 alone. A recent study from Blue Horizon and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) revealed that peak meat production will be reached in Europe and North America in 2025, and will begin to decline thereafter, increasingly replaced by alternative proteins.

Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger
©Nestlé S.A

However, the current entry of some companies into this market has generated a certain level of mistrust in some sectors of the consuming public, partly as a result of their human rights records, among other factors. This is particularly noticeable in large multinationals whose supply chains are extensive and complex.

At the same time, it has also caused controversy – especially among the vegan community – that many of them continue to profit, in large part, from the sale of animal products.

Addressing this issue, vegconomist en español spoke to four experts from the worlds of vegan entrepreneurship, NGOs, academia, and activism, to get their take on the issue.

Here’s what they had to say

Cristina Rodrigo

Cristina Rodrigo, Country Manager ProVeg International in Spain:

Our mission is to demand better food systems that are more sustainable, resilient and functional. And it will be impossible to achieve this without asking companies and organisations to review and improve their approach. If we want to see large-scale transformation, we need to bring companies like Nestlé and Unilever into this change, regardless of their history.

When brands and multinationals make positive changes, such as embracing a greener future, we can only applaud their efforts and hope that this will encourage more companies to adapt and progress. It is vital and urgent that they do so.

Maria Troya, Research Fellow at the Good Food Institute (GFI) and MBA with a focus on Sustainability, Food and Agriculture from Oxford University:

The entry of large corporations into the vegan market is undoubtedly a positive and essential step in driving the transition towards greater consumption of plant-based products. This will be essential for the vegan industry to become more competitive.

Getting more corporate participation in this market, especially from companies that have historically had a large supply of animal products, is key to achieving the goals that the vegan movement has around this food transition.

Maria Troya, Research Fellow at the Good Food Institute
Maria Troya, Research Fellow at the Good Food Institute

We can expect that the entry of corporations into the vegan market will: 1) result in an increase in the supply of plant-based products, many of them at a lower cost, 2) expand consumer access to a wider variety of vegan products, and 3) in some cases, lead to corporations replacing their animal product portfolio with plant-based products.

Additionally, we must consider that there are financial, operational and technological barriers that limit the growth of the vegan and alternative protein industry. Investment by corporations can be key to overcoming these.

In particular, it could result in the development of new value chains and infrastructure, attract greater investment, and drive entrepreneurship and innovation. All of which will be essential for the vegan industry to become more competitive and highlight the inefficiencies that exist in animal-derived production systems.

Paula González Carracedo, founder and CEO of The Vegan Agency, a communication and visibility company for vegan brands, vegan activist and director of the NGO Million Dollar Vegan in Spain:

Paula Gonzalez Carracedo, The Vegan Agency 

My opinion is totally divided between heart and head. The pragmatic part tells me that it is good news that the same companies responsible for the decline of the planet and the death of so many millions of animals are taking steps towards veganism and a better world for all.

“Only time and the long-term end result will tell.”

This can be very positive in terms of bringing vegan foods closer to the consumer groups and helping to democratise their reach, making the consumer’s purchase ticket cheaper. However, I am very concerned about the type of food quality they develop, and that they do not make changes at other levels in the same companies (mainly labour inequalities and environmental problems).

As an entrepreneur with a still small communication agency, I personally always try to prioritise other vegan businesses in my shopping basket over these large multinationals. So, is it positive? It depends, only time and the final result in the long run will tell.

Mariana Issa, Food Innovation Manager at EligeVeg in Mexico, a site managed by Mercy for Animals:

Large food companies have huge production facilities, worldwide distribution and relationships with large supermarkets and restaurant chains, so they will be able to offer more plant-based options at lower prices.

Mariana Issa, Food Innovation Manager at EligeVeg in Mexico
Mariana Issa, Food Innovation Manager at EligeVeg in Mexico

This is a crucial point in making plant-based food accessible to all.

These factors make vegan food more widely available, and thus, when this trend reaches greater penetration in the Latin American market, it will be more affordable for consumers of all socio-economic levels. This is a crucial point in making plant-based food accessible to all.

There is no need to choose between supporting large or small companies.

We must support both startups and restaurants whose owners are vegan, as well as large food companies that create and sell new plant-based foods. Animals need both approaches: big companies joining the trend, and revolutionary pioneers who strive every day to protect animals and the planet.

Let’s remember that most food companies are not yet vegan, so we cannot ignore them and wait for them to change on their own. They should be encouraged and supported. By buying their new plant-based products, we are telling them that we want more vegan products – it’s a way of voting with our money.

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