The vegan drinks revolution - Part 1

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Whether they are made by accident or by design, there has never been a better time for vegan drinks, finds Laura Foster. 

There’s a green revolution happening in the UK, as adoption of veganism has grown exponentially in recent years. With all the major supermarkets now stocking vegan lines, and even major food-to-go businesses such as KFC offering plant-based options, it is easier being vegan today than ever before.

The figures are impressive: an Ipsos Mori survey found that the number of vegans in the UK rose from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2019, while the Vegan Society reports that numbers increased by a further 445,428 people between 2020 and 2021.

Sainsbury’s recent Future of Food report stated that the company had seen a 65% increase in sales of plant-based products year on year.

So, what is driving this increasing adoption of veganism and vegan products? “A confluence of a wider better[1]for-me and better-for-the-world trend provides a strong consumer pull, with discussion on the effect of meat production on climate change a particular driver,” says Thorsten Hartmann, custom analytics director at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

“Increased information in the public domain, both formal through press and informal through social media, helps inform the consumer desire to cut out animal products. Finally, there is the supply side – a growing desire for going vegan is now increasingly being met by the food and beverage industry with bespoke product offerings.

“This is being assisted by grocery retailing, ecommerce and hospitality, all of which have identified the need to stock, display and generally offer vegan options.” From the perspective of drinks brands, this is excellent news, because reliance on animal-based ingredients to make a product is naturally very low in most instances, especially regarding unflavoured spirits.

Add to this the fact that there are more plant-based alternatives for drinks categories such as cream liqueurs, and processes such as fining wine and beer are changing, and there is an increasing number of vegan drinks coming to market.

OUTDATED PRACTICES

“In drinks, using animal products is a really outdated and old-fashioned way of doing things,” says Zoey Henderson, founder of vegan, non-alcoholic beer Fungtn. “The whole reason most wines and beers aren’t vegan is because they use isinglass or other very old-school methods of filtration. Before the age of micro-filters and stuff I get that straining your beer through a cat’s guts was probably the only filter that you could find. But now technology has moved on, so we don’t have to use animal products.”

While some producers such as Fungtn set out to be a vegan product, some unintentionally make vegan products in their pursuit of creating the best liquid they can.

Didsbury Gin co-founders Liam Manton and Mark Smallwood fell into the latter camp. “On the journey [of creating our range], we discovered lots of flavoured gins are made from artificial ingredients, so we set about creating a range of great-tasting gins, using real fruits and botanicals,” says Manton. “The use of ethically-sourced, natural ingredients and the process means by default the products are organic and vegan, which has proved a real hit with consumers.”

The Wine People Wines, an Italian producer of vegan wines, made the move intentionally, with sustainability in mind as much as animal cruelty. “Vegan production is extremely sustainable, which is the core of everything we do. We cannot ignore the fact that meat production uses a disproportionate quantity of water compared to the production of the same quantity of protein produced from plant-based items,” says managing director Stefano Girelli.

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