Mince, lentils or a Beyond burger? How much it costs to eat as a vegan

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A flexitarian diet is becoming more appealing for the hip pocket as meat and vegetable costs fluctuate, while some plant-based protein brands struggle to compete.

Just 6 per cent of Australians follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, a recent YouGov survey found, with taste and price playing the largest roles in a customer’s decision-making.

The retail price of beef has fallen 8 per cent in the past month and lamb has falled 15 per cent, NielsenIQ Homescan data shows.

Michael Frier turned away from veganism last year. Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

The price of fruit and vegetables is falling at a slower rate, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics recording a 6.4 per cent drop since last year.

NeilsonIQ data also showed an 8.3 per cent rise in the volume of beef sold and an 18.7 per cent rise for lamb in the 12 weeks to October.

Managing director of Meat and Livestock Australia Jason Strong said the fall in meat prices has led customers to buy greater quantities of lamb and beef at the supermarket.

“Red meat is such a staple for consumers, and they’re responding to the price reductions by purchasing more of it.”

Veganism has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a wide range of new plant-based products appearing on supermarket shelves.

Alternative proteins independent think tank Food Frontier said there had been a threefold increase in the number of plant-based meat products for sale in the past three years, with more than 300 items now available.

However, executive director Dr Simon Eassom warned that the sector was facing headwinds amid high inflation.

“People are making cost-conscious decisions … because these products are sometimes seen as premium foods,” he said.

Four meat burger patties cost between $7 and $10, while two Beyond Burger patties cost $11. Last week, Beyond Meat cut its annual revenue forecast for the second time this year.

Several plant protein companies have left the Australian market this year, including Nestlé’s Harvest Gourmet and startups NotCo and Moving Mountains, Eassom said, though there had been growth in premium frozen foods and dairy alternative categories.

After two years of being vegan, Michael Frier decided it was simply easier – and often cheaper – to eat meat.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

A Woolworths spokesperson said there had been high demand for both plant-based alternatives and meat products.

“With the rise of ‘flexitarian’ customers, looking to add variety to their diets, many shoppers are buying both meat and plant-based alternatives, so demand is steady,” the spokesperson said.

A Coles spokesperson said that of 8000 customers surveyed in October, 39 per cent were eating less meat to reduce grocery costs, while 37 per cent said they were buying cheaper cuts of meat.

“We’re seeing customers opt for cheaper cuts of meat such as mince and white meat varieties and bulking out their meals with things like legumes and rice,” the spokesperson said.

Cost and convenience were major factors in former vegan Michael Frier’s dietary decisions.

“It’s hard work,” he said. “You have to think ahead about your meals … it gets tiresome.”

Frier was vegan from 2020 until April last year for health and environmental reasons but said the current cost of living crunch had hindered him from returning to the lifestyle.

“When a couple of dollars makes a difference, and you’ve got a busy lifestyle, it’s easier to grab a chicken breast or non-vegetarian ready meal than it is to find something vegan,” he said.

Vegan Australia spokeswoman Heidi Nicholl said being vegan doesn’t have to come with a high price tag.

“There are a lot of processed vegan options, but by going back to basics with dried beans, lentils and chickpeas, and spending a little bit of time researching, you can make meals absolutely delicious,” she said.

Nicholl also said that lower meat prices may come with a higher environmental or ethical toll.

“I’d be really surprised that somebody who made the decision [to be vegan] because they care about animal welfare would change their lifestyle because of prices.”

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