What is the cost of going vegan?
Many people regard veganism as an expensive lifestyle choice, but is there any truth in that claim?
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2019 will be remembered for many reasons, but will it also be remembered as the “year of the vegan”?
This was the bold prediction made by both The Economist and The Guardian at the end of 2018 as vegan products, and veganism as a lifestyle, seemed to be becoming ever-more popular and widespread across the UK. Indeed, with figures from the Vegan Society showing there to be 600,000 vegans in the UK, more than doubling from 2016, and 250,000 people officially signing up for Veganuary in 2019, 100,000 more than in 2018, veganism seems set to continue its upward trend.
And the numbers don’t even include the growing number of vegetarians, ‘flexitarians’, and meat eaters who are making more of an effort to reduce their consumption of animal products. They may be doing this for environmental reasons, animal welfare concerns, or health benefits but, whatever the motivation, this rising interest has helped to transform veganism from a niche interest into a well-known and popular lifestyle across food and other sectors.
Despite this rise, veganism still prompts many questions and concerns, notably about the cost of living. Many people regard veganism as an expensive lifestyle choice, and in 2016 there were even claims that following a vegan diet could cost an individual £2,000 a year more than a non-specialist diet.
However, like any other diet and lifestyle, veganism can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. As the number and variety of vegan products has increased, vegans are no longer restricted to basic ‘grains, greens, and beans’ or high-priced alternative items from specialist stores, but instead can shop in mainstream retailers and even buy supermarket own-brand ranges. Although some of these products continue to be more costly than their meat/dairy equivalent, the fact that vegans have more choice in where they shop and what products they buy, means they have more control over how much they spend.
1 in 6 food products launched in the UK in 2018 claimed to be vegan -the highest of any country.
Cooking for one vs cooking for family
Although more people seem to be going vegan, figures from Kantar show that a high percentage of vegans live alone and the majority don’t have children living with them. This indicates veganism is less popular among families, and one of the reasons for this is likely to concern expense.
Parents may be put off from going vegan because of the perceived cost of feeding their household, reinforced when they see the price of specialist plant-based meals and alternatives. Because families would need larger amounts of some items, e.g. milk, to cater for everyone, it would be cheaper and more convenient for them to purchase one large carton of cow’s milk rather than buying several smaller cartons of a plant alternative. Especially if they are trying to save money or are shopping on a tight budget, families may think they simply cannot afford a vegan lifestyle.
Nevertheless, with careful planning, it is still possible for families to go vegan on a budget by using staple ingredients like vegetables, beans, pulse, and grains that are cheap and ideal for cooking in bulk. Granted, these may take more time to prepare than buying pre-packaged food, but they can save families a significant sum of money on their shopping!
Note: All prices in this article are from Tesco.com, unless otherwise stated. All prices correct as of October 2019.
Meat vs meat alternatives
|Cheaper meat option||Pricier meat option||Vegan meat option|
|Beef||Boswell Farm Rump Steak 227g £2.34||Tesco Organic Sirloin Steak 200g £5.34||Vivera Veggie Steak 200g £2.99|
|Mince||Boswell Farms 20% Fat 500g £1.49||Tesco Organic Steak Mince 15% Fat 500g £4.65||Sainsbury’s Naturli Plant-Based Mince 400g £3.00|
|Beef burger||Tesco Quarter-Pounders (4 burgers) £2.50||Tesco Finest Chuck and Brisket Burger (2 burgers) £3.00||Wicked Kitchen Jalapeno Griller Patties (2 burgers) £3.00|
|Sausages||Woodside Farm Pork Sausages 12-Pack £1.09||Musk’s Newmarket Sausages 6-Pack £3.00||Heck Super Green Sausage Range 6-Pack £2.50|
|Chicken||Tesco 2 British Chicken Breast Fillets 300g £1.60 (£5.34/kg)||Tesco Organic 2 Chicken Fillets 400g £6.92 (£17.30/kg)||Tesco Plant Chef Southern Fried Fillets 250g £2.50 (£10.00/kg)|
|Cooked meat (Ham)||Eastman’s Wafer-Thin Cooked Ham 40 Slices £1.50||Tesco The Deli Wiltshire Cured Crumbed Ham 4 Slices £3.80||Sainsbury’s Quorn Vegan Ham Free Slices 4 Slices £2.00|
Meat tends to be one of the most expensive items in your shopping basket, so removing it would theoretically cut your expenditure. However, if the meat you would normally buy is replaced like-for-like by vegan alternatives, it could have the opposite effect as these are often more expensive than all but the most premium brands. Especially when compared to the cheapest meat on offer, the plant-based alternatives can cost considerably more.
However, it should be remembered that these meat-alternative products are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. It could be tempting for recent vegan converts to try to recreate their previous diet with the above products, but this is unlikely to be sustainable or healthy both in terms of expense and nutrition. Cheaper foodstuffs, such as those listed below, can also create filling meals and help you to cut your shopping bills when switching to a vegan diet.
|Cauldron Foods Tofu 396g||£2.00|
|The Tofuu Co. Tempeh 200g (Sainsbury’s)||£3.00|
|Cauldron Foods Falafel 200g||£1.50|
|Jackfruit in Water (tin||£1.60|
|Portobello Flat Mushrooms 150g||£1.00|
|Red Split Lentils 1kg||£1.80|
Although some of these options, such as tofu and tempeh, are of a comparable price to meat and its alternatives, there are many types of vegetables, beans, and legumes that can act as substitutes and work out much cheaper per meal. These latter items are where vegans can make major savings on their expenditure, especially if they buy in bulk and in dried/raw form where possible.
Some supermarkets have been criticised for selling over-priced food targeted at vegans. For example, Marks & Spencer notably came under fire for selling pre-packaged, sliced cauliflower ‘steaks’ for £2.00.
Switching from vegetarian to vegan
If they shop smartly, meat eaters going vegan are likely to spend less on their shopping, but it could be a different story for vegetarians adopting this diet. Because vegetarians would have already cut out the significant expense of meat, they wouldn’t benefit from extra savings in this area, and a recent study showed that they could even spend more on their shopping after making the switch to veganism. They would have to substitute their dairy consumption with vegan equivalents and, as we will see below, many of these come with an added cost that could end up boosting your total expenditure.
Dairy vs dairy alternatives
|Cheaper non-vegan option||Pricier non-vegan option||Vegan option|
|Milk||Tesco Semi-Skimmed 1.13L £0.80 3.408L £1.50||Yeo Valley Organic Semi-Skimmed Milk 1L £1.15||Tesco Soya/Almond Milks 1L £0.95|
|Cheese||Creamfields Cheddar 400g £1.79 (£4.48/kg)||Davidstow Extra Mature Cheddar 320g £4.00 (£12.50/kg)||Tesco Free From Coconut Oil Alternative to Mature Cheddar 200g £2.00 (£10.00/kg)|
|Butter||Tesco Butter Me Up Spread 500g £1.05||Lurpak Spreadable 500g £3.75||Vitalite Dairy Free Spread 500g £1.40|
|Yoghurt||Tesco Natural Yoghurt 500g £0.90 (£0.18/100g)||Muller Light Greek Yoghurt £2.50 (£0.52/100g)||Tesco Free From Natural Yoghurt 500g £1.25 (£0.25/100g)|
This indicates there is still progress to be made when it comes to the cost of plant-based dairy alternatives, but the good news is that there is a growing selection of products on offer. Previously, you may have only been able to purchase vegan alternatives from specialist stores, or only have one option on the supermarket shelf, but now they are readily available with supermarkets even introducing own-brand products. This ever-increasing variety is likely to result in more affordable (as well as more luxury) dairy alternatives, so individuals will have more choice on how much they spend, rather than being limited to one possible brand and price.
Other food items
|Cheaper non-vegan option||Pricier non-vegan option||Vegan option|
|Eggs||Tesco 15 eggs £1.19||Clarence Court Burford Browns Free Range Eggs x6 £2.25||Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg 10-12 eggs £7.99 (Holland & Barrett)|
|Pizza (fresh)||Hearty Food Company Pizza 300g £0.99 (£0.33/100g)||Pizza Express Margherita Pizza 245g £5.00 (£2.05/100g)||Wicked Kitchen Caponata Pizza 302g £4.00 (£1.33/100g)|
|Pies||Eastman’s Individual Pie £0.74||Tesco Finest Individual Pie £3.40||Clive’s Creamy Mushroom Pie (serves 1-2) 235g £2.79 (Waitrose)|
|Ready meals||Hearty Food Company range £1.20||Charlie Bigham’s range £4.75||Wicked Kitchen range £4.00|
|Mayonnaise||Stockwell & Co 500ml Mayonnaise £0.41 (£0.08/100ml)||Tiptree Truffle Mayonnaise 165g £4.50 (£2.73/100g)||Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise 270g £2.15 (£0.80/100g)|
|Cereal/energy bars||Tesco range x6 £0.89||Alpen Protein Bar x5 £2.69||Nakd bars x4 £2.50|
|Honey||Stockwell & Co Honey 340g £0.99||Rowse Manuka 15+ Honey 225g £19.99||Groovy Food Agave 250ml £2.50|
With the recent proliferation of plant-based alternative, vegans now have a greater selection of foodstuffs from which to create their meals; and it’s the food they choose which will determine how the cost of veganism compares to their previous diet.
As you would expect, processed vegan products like pizza and ready meals could increase your shopping bill quite substantially if you purchase them regularly. However, these convenience foods are not intended to form the basis of any kind of diet, vegan or otherwise, so as long as they only feature occasionally in your shopping, any extra cost they add should be minimal and balanced out by savings elsewhere. The danger of spending more on these products is likely to occur with newer vegans, as they may be tempted to purchase what is familiar and convenient rather than planning new meal ideas with cheaper ingredients.
Consequently, the actual cost of going vegan will depend on whether you are prepared to create new dishes with low-cost ‘grains, greens, and beans’ or if you rely more on pre-packaged vegan-labelled items for your meals. It may take more time to plan and prepare meals from scratch than putting a ready meal in the microwave, but it can save a substantial amount of money!
Vegans may find the price of specific egg substitutes particularly worrying. Because eggs are so versatile and are used in many different dishes, vegans could think replacing them with the specially-made substitutes will stretch their budget too far. However, these substitutes are not the only possible replacements, as other ingredients such as tofu, banana, flaxseed, apple sauce, aquafaba (‘bean water’), and chickpea flour, can replicate eggs in certain meals or recipes, depending on what you want to use them for.
|Cheaper non-vegan option||Pricier non-vegan option||Vegan option|
|Chocolate||Ms Molly’s Chocolate Bar 100g £0.30||Lindt Chocolate Bar 100g £1.99||The Free From Kitchen Co. Chocolate Slab 100g £1.50|
|Ice-cream||Ms Molly’s Vanilla Ice Cream 2L £0.92||Ben & Jerry’s range 500ml £4.50||Swedish Glace Vanilla Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert 750ml £2.50|
|Sharing cake||Tesco Raspberry Sponge Cake serves 6 £1.00||Thorntons Toffee Cake serves 10 £8.00||Just Love Food Vegan Chocolate Cake serves 8 £6.00|
Even though vegan chocolates and sweets are becoming much more widespread, they are still fairly expensive with even the cheaper options costing more than many of the standard products. The impact of this higher cost is compounded by the fact that vegans have no real alternative to these pricier options, in contrast to the diverse array of products at different price ranges available for those without dietary requirements.
Whilst vegans may find some standard dark chocolate that is ‘accidentally vegan’, most goods in this sector will need to be specially-made and tend to come with an extra cost. The extra cost is particularly evident when you compare products from one brand, such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, as their vegan tubs cost £1.00 more than their standard tubs.
Although more competitively priced products may appear in the future if demand continues to grow, for now, vegans will have to be prepared to pay a little bit extra for their sweet treats.
Vegan food you may already eat
Whatever their existing diet, many people already buy plant-based food without any animal ingredients (listed below). As a result, going vegan does not necessarily mean you need to change everything about your shopping and expenditure.
- Fruit & Vegetables
- Bread (most varieties)
- Dried pasta
- Grains e.g. Quinoa, Oats
- Nuts and Seeds
- Peanut Butter
- Cereal (some)
- Biscuits (some)
When veganism can get expensive
Influencers and celebrities have been a factor in the rising popularity of veganism. However, their Instagram-perfect meals with exotic ingredients, organic products, and “superfoods” do not necessarily give a good reflection of how much a vegan diet can cost in reality, and can contribute to the impression that veganism is an expensive lifestyle.
Whilst some specialist foods may be beyond the budget of an average person, we have seen these are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. There are many other cheaper ingredients available that can be used to create more budget-friendly vegan meals, with recipe ideas in cookbooks and on the internet that individuals and families can use for inspiration.
One recent study indicated that, whatever supermarket you shopped at, vegan items would cost you more. Waitrose showed the largest increase with the vegan basket costing double the ‘normal’ basket. However, as the study only compared the price of animal-derived products and their vegan alternatives, such as burgers, sausages, milk, pizza, cake, and ice cream, their findings are not that surprising as we have seen this is an expensive way to follow a vegan diet, but certainly not the only way.
Eating out costs
Gone are the days when vegans had to content themselves with some salad leaves if they chose to eat out. Whilst there may have been a handful of specialist vegan restaurants and cafés, many places didn’t specifically cater for vegans so there was little on the menu that they could eat, if anything. Now, however, many standard restaurants, cafés, and takeaway food stores are offering special vegan menus which, alongside the increasing numbers of vegetarian or vegan-only eateries, gives individuals more choice in where they eat.
Because more places now offer a selection of vegan dishes, inevitably the issue of cost arises. Recent research suggested that vegans could pay up to 65% more on an average meal out compared to those without any dietary specifications, but this may not tell the whole story. It doesn’t explicitly say this increased expenditure is because vegan meals automatically cost more; indeed, looking at a range of restaurant prices, it seems there is no significant difference in cost between the menu options.
Some pubs and restaurants have received criticism for charging the same price for a vegan alternative as a meat dish- famously Young’s which charged £28 for 2 cauliflower “steak” meals, the same as their Aberdeen Angus steaks.
There has been some controversy around restaurants selling “overpriced” vegan meals, with people claiming these businesses are exploiting the vegan trend. However, although plant-based ingredients may generally be cheaper than meat, restaurants still need to factor in the different methods of preparation as well as their overhead costs. While there have been some teething problems as businesses try to cater for vegans, more of them are seeming to find the right balance between cost and quality.
Note: All prices below are correct across certain stores as of October 2019.
Grilled Chicken Burger £6.45
Veggie Cataplana (Vegan) £6.45
Handmade Burger Co.
Classic Beef Burger £7.35
Vegan Cajun Vegetable and Bean Burger/Falafel Burger £7.95
Takeaway and fast food
Whether people are eating on the go or ordering in a takeaway, there is a growing demand for vegan convenience food which chains and independent stores are working to meet.
Orders of vegan takeaways rose 388% between 2016 and 2018, and vegan orders on Deliveroo have reportedly quadrupled over the last 2 years.
Greggs stole all the headlines at the start of 2019 when it launched its vegan sausage roll to unprecedented success. Initially only introduced for a limited period across certain stores, its popularity led to its roll out nationwide, with the company reporting rising sales and profits in the first half of 2019 which they partly credit to this new introduction.
Their vegan sausage roll is currently more expensive than their meat version by a matter of pence, reinforcing the point made earlier that specially-made plant-based products do tend to come at an extra cost. However, unless you buy a vegan roll every day, it is unlikely to have a major impact on your total expenditure and the popularity of the product seems to show most customers are not concerned by the added expense.
Other cafés and food outlets such as Pret a Manger, Eat, and Leon also have a solid vegan offering, with no significant difference in price to their non-vegan products. The vegan trend is even extending to fast food companies as KFC trialled a vegan ‘Imposter’ burger for several weeks in 2019, with it costing even less than most of their meaty offerings.
What this shows is that a vegan looking for a quick takeout option not only has plenty of choice, but also won’t necessarily be spending much more than their meat-eating counterparts, if at all. With independent food outlets and street food options to choose from too, alongside the chains, vegans have a growing number of places to choose from for an affordable takeout meal.
“Lifestyle” vegans will also look to purchase vegan clothes, shoes, and bags. This means they won’t buy any items made from leather, suede, wool, and other animal by-products, including collagen which is often used in glues. Even items that might appear vegan, like a faux leather jacket, are not necessarily so as everything involved in the product needs to be animal-free, not just the main fabric.
Faux animal materials (like leather or fur) have traditionally been regarded as ‘lesser versions’ of an item made from real animal products, but this doesn’t automatically mean that vegan clothes will be cheaper. Because the manufacturing process of a vegan equivalent will be the same as the standard product, and in some cases may require more specialist materials and procedures, the price of vegan clothing is likely to at least be similar to corresponding items from the same brand.
Dr Martens was ahead of the trend in 2011 when it started selling vegan footwear, as at that time vegans were mostly restricted to shopping at smaller, specialist retailers and designer brands that exclusively sold vegan items. As you would expect, these could be an expensive choice, especially if you compare them to the rock-bottom prices of ‘fast fashion’; although they are likely to be a similar price or even cheaper when compared to other high-end brands and designer products.
Vegan clothing is still a relatively small sector in mainstream and high street shops, but it is certainly growing, as retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Office, and Toms are joining Dr Martens in offering specialist vegan product lines. However, up until recently, these product selections have tended to be fairly small and offer consumers a limited choice.
This situation does look to be changing with more major brands making an effort in this area as, for example, New Look recently released an extensive vegan range including jackets, shoes, bags, and purses, that are registered with the Vegan Trademark. Furthermore, these products are similar in price to their other items, so there is no apparent added cost involved just for the ‘vegan’ label. Similarly, Dr Martens has set the cost of its vegan shoes at the same level as its standard pairs. With the booming interest in veganism, and the apparent profitability of stocking vegan products, it is likely other retailers will soon follow suit, resulting in a wider choice of more affordable vegan options for customers.
As with everything we’ve looked at, the question is all about choice. Vegans have traditionally had a more limited selection of items to choose from, many of which could be from more costly, independent specialist brands, whilst non-vegans have had the luxury of choosing between cheap and expensive products. Now, however, with the introduction of vegan ranges in mainstream and high-street retailers, it seems vegans will have a growing choice of more affordable products to help them shop within their particular budget.
Vegan toiletries and cosmetics
Although some of these items may have already been “accidentally vegan”, the emergence of specially-made vegan beauty and hygiene products has only been evident over the last few years. There is a growing market for products without any animal-based ingredients and that haven’t been tested on animals, so people can now often find vegan ranges in mainstream shops, as well as from more niche and specialist brands.
Collagen, beeswax, shellac, elastin, and keratin are just some of the animal-derived ingredients commonly found in many hygiene and beauty products, but many companies are starting to use alternatives to these items. In addition to specialist, vegan-only brands that often come with a higher cost, there is now an increasing number of vegan options available at more mainstream retailers like Lush, The Body Shop, Superdrug, and Boots. The prices of these items, such as Superdrug’s B vegan range, are comparable with some of their other products, although there are likely to be some non-vegan items that are still substantially cheaper.
Because the range and price of products in this sector is so diverse, and because the use of them varies so widely between individuals, it is hard to make generalisations about the impact that going vegan will have on your bank account. Despite this, it is clear that there is a fairly wide choice of vegan products crossing different price ranges, which means individuals won’t necessarily be forced to pay a significantly higher price just for an animal-free item.
So, is it more expensive to be a vegan?
Whether you’re looking to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle or simply eat more plant-based meals, it won’t inevitably add an extra burden to your finances. As we have seen, the exact impact veganism will have on your expenditure would depend on your previous shopping habits and what products you buy, but individuals should find they are able to shop within their existing budget or even spend less by going vegan.
In theory, veganism can be a relatively cheap diet if you plan your shopping and if a large proportion of your meals are formed primarily of ‘grains, greens and beans’. If, however, you try to recreate an omnivore diet with specially-made, processed vegan alternatives, then you are likely to find it a more expensive and unsustainable lifestyle, even though more affordable substitutes and own-brand products are hitting the shelves.
Compared to previous years, there are many more of these specialist vegan alternatives for customers to choose from in mainstream stores. Although this is a positive development, it could also be a double-edged sword when it comes to calculating the cost of going vegan.
More choice, more money?
As more brands and retailers are investing time and money on developing plant-based alternatives and vegan substitutes, there are now more products that could tempt vegans to spend more. Even though many of these new plant-based items are intended to be affordable, they can still be pricier than their meat and dairy equivalents which could make your food shopping more expensive if you buy them regularly.
In previous years vegans may have relied more on the cheaper staples like beans and legumes as there were very few specific vegan products on offer. Now, with supermarkets, restaurants, clothing retailers, and health and beauty retailers selling more vegan-friendly products, the increased choice has not only made it easier to follow a vegan lifestyle but also made it possible to spend more on costly plant-based substitutes.
Vegans can now begin to choose where they shop, which brands to buy, what kinds of products they want, and ultimately how much they want to spend, all of which will determine what the actual cost of going vegan will be to them.
Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more