The price gap between meat and alt meat products has been shrinking over the past year.
Now, price data collated by supermarket researcher Questionmark on behalf of ProVeg Netherlands suggests conventional meat has been undercut by plant-based alternatives.
In February, the price gap was closing…
Back in 2019, plant-based meat alternatives were far from price parity. Vegetarian chicken pieces, for example, were still €0.75 more expensive per 100g than their animal-based counterparts.
Yet in February of this year, new research out of Europe suggested the gap was closing.
ProVeg Netherlands – the Dutch arm of ‘food awareness’ non-profit ProVeg International, which aims to halve global consumption of animals by 2040 – commissioned Questionmark to analyse the prices of animal-based and plant-based products at Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn over the last five years.
The study also examined five other large Dutch supermarkets: Jumbo, Lidl, Aldi, Dirk, and Plus.
In early 2022, it was found that meat-free chicken pieces were just €0.13 more expensive. The price difference in minced meat had similarly fallen – from €0.24 to €0.06 – over the same period.
At the time, it was suggested plant-based was approaching near price parity with some animal-based products due to at least two factors: in some cases, the price of plant-based alternatives had come down, while in others, meat had increased in price.
By June, vegan meat had become the cheaper option
Fast-forward less than six months and new figures compiled by Questionmark reveal that on average, plant-based meat is now cheaper than its conventional counterpart in the Netherlands.
In February, plant-based burgers were on average €0.56 per kilo more expensive than animal-based burgers. As of June, they are €0.78 cheaper per kilo.
Plant-based chicken pieces were on average €1.16 more expensive per kilo earlier this year, but are now retailing for €0.37 per kilo cheaper. And in the minced meat category, plant-based was on average €0.29 more expensive per kilo, but are now retailing at an average of €1.36 per kilo cheaper.
While plant-based was not always cheaper in every supermarket analysed, ProVeg stressed the same trend ‘can be seen anywhere’: namely a sharp decline or even reversal in price differences.
In relative terms, Aldi and Lidl were found to offer the greatest savings for those who exchange meat for meat alternatives.
Why? It’s ‘entirely’ due to rising meat prices
Unlike back in February, when ProVeg suspected two factors were at play, now the non-profit is certain the cause of the changes is ‘entirely’ due to rising meat prices, rather than cheaper meat alternatives.
In most cases, plant-based meats remained the same price, or even because slightly more expensive – but to a much letter extent than meat, noted ProVeg.
Meanwhile, meat became 21% more expensive on average between February and June. Plant-based meat alternatives rose in price by just 2%.
ProVeg puts this down to increased inflation and higher raw material costs, fuelled by the Ukraine-Russia conflict and droughts across Europe. The non-profit suspects higher raw material costs make meat ‘much more’ sensitive to disruptions in the world market than meat alternatives.
“To make one kilogram of meat, you need up to 10kg of grain. Now, in times of scarcity, that takes its toll,” noted Pablo Moleman of ProVeg Netherlands.
The food industry expert believes margins may also play a role. Supermarkets try to attract customers by offering meat as cheaply as possible, he said, with margins of around 8% being common, and ‘sometimes meat is even sold below cost’.
Meat alternatives, on the other hands, have greater margins – of around 35-50%.
“Those higher margins may have acted as a buffer to absorb the price blows, while with meat, supermarkets had no choice but to raise prices. That could explain why meat has been hit so hard by price increases and plant-based substitutes have not.”