‘From fringe to mainstay’: Germany's demand for animal-free products

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
The vegetarian and vegan sector continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the German food and beverage market, as popular diet choices are supported by an up-tick in product development. What are the best opportunities to grow in the market?

According to consumer research conducted by Mintel, an estimated 8% of Germans are vegetarian, while 6% identify as vegans and many more are adopting a flexitarian approach.

This means there are roughly double the number of vegetarian and vegan people in Germany today than there were in 2006 – and this figure continues to rise. A recent report from the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service noted that some estimates suggest that every day the vegetarian and vegan populations in Germany increase by 2,000 and 200 people respectively.

The 'veggie consumer'

Typically, younger Germans are more likely to cut the amount of animal products in their diets. Mintel reports that 9% of 16-24 year-olds and 13% of 25-34 year-olds are vegan.

“The most likely buyers of vegan or veggie options in Germany are young consumers, who are abstaining from meat or animal product consumption more frequently and will likely continue to follow this nutrition pattern in the future,”​ Mintel food and drink analyst Katya Witham told FoodNavigator.

“Young people appear to be more open to flexitarian eating and meat abstinence due to their growing awareness of health, the environment and compassion for animals, pointing out a generational difference in attitudes towards meat and meat eating."

Vegetarian organisation ProVeg, which is active in five different countries including Germany, suggested that the vegetarian and vegan trend is supported by push and pull factors. Consumers are increasingly linking meat consumption to negative consequences for the environment, animal welfare and health. But there is also an increasing awareness of “the positive benefits of plant-based nutrition”​, a spokesperson suggested.

This observation is born out in data provided by the USDA.

“Vegetarians and vegans tended to be more educated, live in large cities, and be physically active for four plus hours a week,”​ GAIN report authors Emily Ruhm and Leif Erik Rehder noted.

“Additionally, being vegetarian or vegan affected their diet beyond animal products. They drank less energy drinks, beer, or wine but more tea. Female vegetarians drank less spirits, and male vegetarians drank less coffee and ate fewer potatoes but more pasta and rice. The dietary changes reflect the importance of health and wellness in the vegetarian/vegan culture of Germany.”

Choice is fuelling growth

An up-tick in product development and broadening choice is making it easier for more people to either reduce or eliminate animal products from their diet.

Product development rates in the vegan and vegetarian category have accelerated in recent years. In particular, the industry has focused on its innovation efforts on filling the vacuum for vegan products, Mintel's Witham revealed. 

“Over the past few years, the German food and drink market has seen vegan references rise on new product launches and catch up quickly with vegetarian claims. The development is driven both by brands actively stepping into the vegan segment and by brands that are naturally vegan and - to meet current demand - opt to focus on their plant-based status. Vegan claims have soared to account for 15% of all retail food and drink launches in Germany in 2017, whereas vegetarian claims were found on 8% of launches,”​ Witham noted.

Mintel’s product development database also shows that vegan products are extending their category reach. In 2017, vegan claims were most developed in plant-based dairy alternatives (95% of all launches were vegan), meat substitutes (62%), soup (39%), savoury spreads (38%), breakfast cereals (35%), juice drinks (33%) and snacks (27%).

What channels are most attractive?

While the German retail market for vegetarian and vegan products is both large and growing, it is also crowded. Indeed, when vegan-only retail chain Veganz went bankrupt last year, the company cited growing competition – not lacking demand – as the primary cause of its woes.

An important growth opportunity for vegan and vegetarian food manufacturers is the foodservice sector. According to Happy Cow, a website that lists vegan and vegetarian restaurants, there are more than 160 vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Berlin alone. Happy Cow describes the city, which is home to 55 listed vegan restaurants, as a “vegan macca”.

ProVeg also flagged rising demand for animal-free options in public catering, such as school canteens, homes for the elderly and hospitals.

The organisation’s GV Barometer 2018, which was released earlier this month, highlights the potential scale of this opportunity. The annual survey of more than 300 “decision makers”​ from the public catering sector found two-thirds of respondents expect vegetarian and vegan food to continue to gain importance over the next three years. 

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