For anyone who has ventured outside in the last five years, it has been virtually impossible to miss the rise and rise of veganism. Undoubtedly the fastest growing food trend, according to the Vegetarian Times, at least half a percent of the US population now identify as vegan. That's over 1 million people. There has been an increase of 500% in people adopting the lifestyle in just three years and the impact on societal attitudes and on the food industry has been drastic. Resultantly, it has heightened the average consumers understanding of the health risks, environmental impacts and ethical implications of using animal products. This, in turn, has had a drastic impact on consumer habits, forcing the supply chain to catch up with the escalating demand.
Most obviously, the rise of veganism has had a significant impact on the levels of meat and dairy consumption. While relatively few individuals chose to adopt the diet completely, the increased awareness of veganism and its benefits has had an impact on many people's dietary habits. One-third of Americans now choose to leave meat off their plates more frequently according to One Green Planet. The same study shows that in 2015 the consumption of red meat in the US dropped by 15%. The dairy industry has also seen a significant decrease in sales, as the average American uses 37% less milk than they did in 1970, preferring alternatives such as soy or almond milk. The reduced consumption of animals and animal products is great news for animal welfare and adds up to a significant reduction of the associated pollution. However, it means that we may start to see a decline in the meat and dairy industries in the coming decade as people adopt alternative diets.
Veganism has become synonymous with a healthy lifestyle for many, so has influenced the rise of consumers demanding 'health food' and organic produce. According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic food market now tops $43 billion and accounts for nearly 5% of total food sales. Yet just 1% of U.S. cropland is geared to accommodate organic agriculture and so the industry will have to expand vastly to meet demand. With a significant proportion of organic produce coming from smaller operations, this will mean that such organizations will require additional stops for trucks, consolidation of product through freight on board (FOB) or forward distributing service centers, or local purchasing from organic/specialty wholesalers. For the large farming operations who have already, or plan to in the future, integrate organic farming into their regular operations, it means the supply chain has become more complex. Organic produce needs to be treated very differently to non-organic stock, kept separately, stored in specific conditions and handled with different equipment so to prevent cross-contamination. As demand increases these complications will only grow, so the organic supply chain must prepare to innovate rapidly to keep up with burgeoning demand.
Nearly all respondents (94%) to a Label Insight survey agreed that it is important to them that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what is in their food and how it is made. Vegan consumers tend to be hyper-aware of what is going into the products they buy and the nature of the organizations' supply chain to ensure that no animals are being harmed in the making of the products they use. They also tend to value sustainability from their produce. So it will only become more important to an organizations' success that they make sure their supply chains are visible, sustainable and ethical.
The cosmetics retailer Lush are a great example of a brand who actively identify and promote themselves as an ethical, sustainable and vegetarian business. Picking up on the consumer's demand for transparency, on each product is attached a list of all the ingredients and assurance that they do not test on animals. They also regularly review and publish their policies in regards to ethical and sustainable standards. The Head of Ethical Buying at Lush, Simon Constantine, claims that the company has experienced a surge in sales since 2013, with profits rising by 50% to above £31 million, in part due to their focus on having an ethical supply chain.
Eating plant-based foods has the impact of massively reducing emissions, as energy is lost when food is grown then consumed by cattle. On top of this, vast spaces and forests often need to be cleared to make room for cattle, wasting more energy and compromising an organizations' sustainability. A plant-based diet requires fewer steps from farm to table, so tends to be far more energy efficient. For example, an NRDC study found that beef is 34 times more climate pollution-intensive than beans and lentils which can be the base of a vegan diet. A plant-based substitute not only enormously simplifies the supply chain but is far more environmentally-friendly.
The effect of veganism on society is predominantly down to the change in mindsets it inspires for individuals, and therefore its impact on the supply chain mostly comes back to the demand from consumers that organizations work on being more environmentally and ethically sustainable. As a trend that shows no sign of slowing, it has the potential to cause a vast decline in the meat and dairy industries and will demand innovative solutions to the supply chain so food operations can keep up.