By Alicia Hückmann, VRG intern visiting from Germany
Vegetarianism and Veganism in Germany
The market for vegan and vegetarian foods in Germany is growing rapidly. According to Mintel, one in ten foods/drinks newly introduced to the market was labeled vegan – twice as much as the European average. Furthermore, the number of vegetarian ready-made foods (including salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, pasta, pastry, etc.) showed a seven-fold increase between 2011 and 2015; those labeled “vegan” experienced a twenty-fold increase. For the market as a whole, this means that about 12% of all instant meals launched in 2015 were meat-free and 9% vegan.
Germans do not only buy more vegetarian and vegan products than they used to, they are also more interested in cruelty-free cooking and baking: The number of vegan cookbooks published in 2015 (119) is about ten times higher than it was back in 2011 (12), as reported by the VEBU (German Vegetarian Union).
On first sight, these numbers might imply that Germany is about to be taken over by literal Krauts. Surveys on vegetarianism and veganism, however, paint a different picture. According to a representative study by the University of Hohenheim, only 1.5% of Germans (20% of whom are vegan) had banned meat, fish, and poultry from their fridges in 2013, another 2% only meat and poultry. The numbers of vegetarians and vegans in the US as provided by the VRG are twice as high (3% and 1% respectively).
As is the case for many surveys, the problem with most studies on vegetarianism that are publicly available is transparency. While Hohenheim gives a relatively clear definition of what they consider to be strictly vegetarian (no meat, no poultry, no fish), other institutes like YouGov allow their participants to answer all questions according to their own individual ideas of what vegetarianism is. If presented with a questionnaire that only differentiates between ‘meat-eater,’ ‘vegetarian,’ and ‘vegan,’ pescetarians, occasional meat-eaters, and flexible vegans will probably tick one of the latter two options rather than the first one. It is therefore not surprising, that YouGov’s numbers are four times as high as Hohenheim’s (6%). The German Vegetarian Union reports that the numbers of vegetarians and vegans are as high as 10%; however, the surveys they mentioned are even less transparent than YouGov’s and should thus be treated with caution.
The fact that none of the publicly accessible surveys except Hohenheim includes a clear definition of what a vegetarian or a vegan is makes it virtually impossible to provide accurate statistics. As a consequence, there is currently no data available that is reliable enough to either support or contradict Hohenheim’s figures.
“Flexitarians” and Meat-reducers
Research on so-called flexitarians and meat reducers, on the other hand, is surprisingly popular and scientifically conducted. It is likely that they are the main reason meat-less foods are on the rise in Germany, more so than strict vegetarian and vegan. Recent statistics by the GfK (society for consumption research) show that casual meat eaters consume 20 percent less meat in comparison to regular meat-eaters while at the same time consuming up to five times more meat alternatives than “non-flexitarians.” Furthermore, the University of Hohenheim claims that about 12% of the population identify as flexitarian; another 10% are willing to cut down on meat. If we believe these figures, roughly a quarter of Germany’s population is going to turn away from conventional meat production to a certain degree, be it by eating less meat in general or switching to organic meat and healthy plant-based alternatives.
Hohenheim’s survey also reveals major motivations for eating less or no meat at all. While up to 88% of all vegetarians feel sympathy for farm animals and admit that animal agriculture poses a major threat to the environment, this is the case for less than two thirds of all flexitarians and meat reducers. Regular meat eaters seem to care even less about the consequences of their lifestyle: More than two thirds deny that farm animals suffer and more than 75% are convinced that the animal industry has little to no impact on the environment. On the other hand, only about a fifth of all meat eaters claims to be well-informed about animal husbandry in comparison to half of all vegetarians.
The driving force for flexitarians and meat reducers appears to be health. About 70% are eager to follow a balanced diet and regularly check their food products’ nutritional value, 86% make sure that their foods contain few artificial additives. Although vegetarians are much more concerned with their health than the average meat eater, they tend to be less concerned with what they eat compared to the other two groups.
The Market for Meat-free and Organic Products in Germany
Thanks to the growing number of people cutting down on animal products, the market for vegetarian and vegan products is booming. In 2015, the three main categories – meat alternatives, plant milk, and breakfast products (cereals, muesli, and spreads) – had an unprecedented revenue of €454 million (note: one Euro equals about $1.12) with an annual increase of 17% on average since 2010 when the revenue was only €208 million. The Institute for market research in Cologne, which published the previously mentioned figures, found out that not only the demand for the most common vegetarian and vegan products has increased but also the popularity of cruelty-free alternatives for products that are often wrongfully perceived to be vegan by nature. These products include wines, juices, and chips, but also shampoo and porcelain.
Another immensely flourishing food sector is the organic market. As a major part of vegan and vegetarian consumers attaches great importance to supporting sustainable farming and food production, the meat-free and the organic markets mostly overlap. In fact, about two thirds of all meat and dairy alternatives are labeled organic in Germany. In recent years, however, more and more omnivore consumers have been discovering the benefits of organic producing as well. According to the German Society of Organic Food Economics, organic farmers recorded sales of €1.58 bn in 2014, which accounts for approximately 3.5% of all revenues in the agricultural industry. About half of these sales were due to food crops, the other half due to animal products including meat, eggs and dairy. In the same year, the organic industry as a whole made €7.91 bn (5% more than in the year before) with consumers correspondingly spending 4.8% more on organic products as reported by the Society for Information on Agriculture (AMI).
In Comparison to Other Countries in the EU
Based on collective research by the Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and the AMI, Germany is far from being Europe’s #1 organic nation despite its rapidly growing organic market. While the German organic industry’s sales of €7.91 bn are by far the highest in the EU and are only beaten by the US market (about €24.3) on a worldwide scale, the country’s per capita consumption (€100 is spent on organic products per year and person) does not even come close to that of other nations like Denmark (€163), and Switzerland (€200). In these countries, organic products also make up a higher percentage of the overall food market: 6.9% in Switzerland and 8% in Denmark – more than twice as much as the German organic market (3.7%)! Interestingly, the US ratio is very similar to the German one. Even though the US organic industry is by far the leading market of its kind, Americans only came eighth in regard to per capita consumption with about €77 per person in the year 2013. The overall sales for organic food make up 4.2% of the market as a whole (according to the Organic Trade Organization), roughly corresponding to the German figures.
For more poll information, see http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll