Opinion – Why we need to disrupt the vegan market

By Rimi Thapar, Founder of vegan confectionery brand LoveRaw

According to a recent food shopping report carried out by supermarket chain Waitrose, one in eight UK shoppers are vegetarian or vegan, and a further 21% claim to be flexitarian, where a largely vegetable-based diet is occasionally supplemented with meat.

In order to accommodate the rise in alternative diets such as these, it is essential that the vegan market welcomes new and independent retailers such as Manchester based vegan start-up, LoveRaw, with open arms.

Currently supplying some of the UK’s largest health food retailers, LoveRaw founder Rimi Thapar explains how she is trying to shake up the market with her vegan confectionery brand:

Veganism is officially on the rise

For years, the vegan market has lacked options, purely because there hasn’t been the demand for it. However, veganism has soared in recent times and consumers are desperate for more choice and increased accessibility.

With this in mind, there has been a marked increase in the number of individuals who aren’t strictly vegan, but still wish to change their eating habits for reasons that are personal to them. This may be connected to wanting a healthier diet or being more socially conscience, but regardless, veganism in some form has escalated exponentially. Partaking in Veganuary or being vegan or flexitarian on certain days of the week through practices such as Meatless Mondays are considered equally as important.

Veganism isn’t a trend or a fad, it’s a movement. It’s a way of life that allows an entire spectrum of people to make conscious changes to their lifestyle and the food they eat without compromising on the taste. Consumers have also become much more mindful about where their food comes from and the entire product lifecycle, meaning it’s never been so important for brands to be transparent on their ethics and not make any misleading claims.

To break the stereotype

In the past, vegan food has been given a bad rep for a variety of reasons, including the assumption of an inferior flavour. This stigma is slowly fading as the industry evolves, but despite what many consumers (and businesses) think, there should not have to be a trade-off when it comes to vegan products and how they taste.

As an example, creating a vegan milk chocolate would be the holy grail, with research showing that vegans miss milk chocolate more than cheese. A little more thought and effort has to go into developing a great tasting vegan milk chocolate the key words there being great tasting.

When starting a vegan brand, choosing what product type(s) to focus on can be one of the toughest challenges you will face. Having identified any gaps in the market, deciding whether to focus all of your energy on one area, or tackle multiple areas simultaneously will be the next hurdle. Regardless of which route you take, you must be able to retain the flexibility to change your offering as and when the market changes.

To encourage more SMEs

According to Mintel, vegan confectionery has peaked since 2016, with many recognised brands expanding their existing ranges with dairy-free, gluten-free and 100% vegan options. In November 2019, Mars became the first well-known confectionery brand to test non-dairy milk chocolate with the launch of its vegan milk chocolate bars.

Undoubtedly, this is a positive step towards disrupting the vegan market but if it becomes oversaturated with heavy hitting retail chains, it could become more challenging for independent brands and SMEs trying to enter the industry.

Between December 2015 and November 2018, only 5% of global chocolate product launches were vegan, meaning there is still a long way to go in disrupting the market. Veganism and plant-based diets show no signs of slowing down, with an increase in retail buyers wanting vegan options, so businesses must be able to evolve to meet the demands of the consumer.