Sustainable, cruelty-free, antibiotic-free, ethically-produced, plant-based veganism that was a niche sector till recently is now gaining worldwide popularity. As distinct from vegetarianism, veganism seeks to avoid the unnecessary disturbing or suffering of all living beings, and is practiced as a diet, lifestyle and fashion alternative with people choosing plant-based products over those made from or mandates testing on animals. Veganism was the minority of another minority class of vegetarians but is now enjoying the spotlight with the move towards conscious living gaining currency during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Initially, the term vegan was used to describe non-dairy vegetarians, but in 1951 the Vegan Society updated the definition to “exclude all forms of animal exploitation”. The term vegan first surpassed “beef” as a search term in 2016.The global market share of plant-based foods is projected to reach US $10,892 million by the end of 2022 with a CAGR of 6.7%. Thus,” to meat or not to meat?” is a question that begets its own answer when you see non-meat choices as healthier, sustainable, ethical and planet-friendly.
According to the Good Food Institute, sales of plant-based foods grew three times faster than overall food sales in 2021. In food, in beauty products, and products used in everyday living, increasingly labels carrying the terms “organic”, “cruelty-free”, “climate-friendly”, “lactose-free”, and “vegan” are inviting curiosity.
With climate events rocking different geographies at different times, sustainability has gained traction in everyday living choices. Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels. It also leads to deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss. What’s good for the planet is good for us as well. And in food, cosmetics or fashion labels, one doesn’t really have to look too hard to find conscious living, vegan alternatives that celebrate the idea of harmonious co-existence. What’s more, vegan food spans inspiring, diverse palette of flavours now, and burgers, bakery, and snack fillings can be easily expanded to include vegan alternatives. Recently India’s first D2C Unicorn, Licious made news by foraying into the plant-based meat market with the launch of UnCrave. Veganism has emerged as a million-dollar health industry. Beyond Meat, Oatly, and several other vegan businesses have created a buzz globally. The plant-based meat industry is going to be in $7billion globally this year, and is also giving birth to the flexitarian culture where people choose meats when there is no alternative, but happily make ethical choices when presented with alternatives.
With India facing an epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like an increase in incidence of diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease, plant-based meats offer healthier alternatives. As per a WHO report, nearly 5.8 million people die from NCDs every year in India, or in other words, 1 in 4 Indians has a risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70. Ingredients commonly found in plant-based food include legumes, quinoa and vital wheat gluten, better known as seitan, and so vegans don’t miss out on their quota of proteins.
Nearly 42% of the Indian population avoids meats due to religious reasons. According to a UN FAO report, India accounts for the lowest rate of meat consumption globally. There were around 500 million vegetarians in India in 2020. However, only 1% of Hindus are strict vegans, so the total number of vegans in India is approximately five million, but is set to zoom with growing consumer awareness.
Veganism promotes nut-based or soy milk instead of dairy milk. While most infants can digest lactose, many people begin to develop lactose intolerance, a reduced ability to digest lactose, as they age. A study by Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences concluded in 2015 that three out of four Indians are lactose intolerant. Medical experts say that the capacity to digest milk naturally decreases as we age, and vegan milk is thus healthier.
Veganism has thus outstretched the boundaries of vegetarianism, though a complete overhaul of dietary habits is a slow process. Bollywood mega stars like Aamir Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Virat Kohli and Alia Bhatt have been promoting and practicing vegan habits. Ritesh Deshmukh and Genelia D’souza are co-founders of Imagine Meats, a plant-based meat alternative brand. Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma are now investors and brand ambassadors of the homegrown plant-based meat brand Blue Tribe.
The vegan trend might have initially been a fad, but it’s winning fresh converts who see the obvious advantages of making ethical choices, saving health, biodiversity and the planet.In India, bodies like the Plant Based Food Industry Association (PBFIA) are stressing on the bigger picture of securing a plant-forward future, creating a network within the plant-based ecosystem to connect organisations, food handlers, start-ups, investors and consumers.
In the FMCG sector, in cosmetics, personal care and hygiene, biodegradable cutlery, fashion brands, cleaning and cleansing products, and products for pet care, there are plenty of vegan choices that allow us a guilt-free life. Veganism is at the forefront of the sustainability battle, and the increasing demand for nutrition-dense plant-based solutions. It’s all about living a life of compassion, and healthy choices. It’s a personal choice, but the decision impacts us all. Given its vast array of benefits and the growing interest of consumers, veganism is going to be the next big market opportunity, on a scale similar to that of the IT sector. It’s ethical, it is bound to win the day.
(The author is Chairperson, IFBA. Views expressed are personal)