The global vegan market is predicted to reach $31.4 billion by 2026. The rise of the plant-based diet has recently generated a whole new wave of consumer awareness in certain sectors, with environmentally conscious consumers looking for greener alternatives in any product they approach.
This whole new approach to sustainability is certainly not limited to the food and drink sector, with sustainability-conscious consumers spilling over (and naturally) into other categories and sectors. The beauty sector is no different. Soon, it will have to change its ways completely.
We reached out to Creative Director & Partner at Free The Birds, Nick Vaus, to learn more about the topic and how B-Corps are entering the beauty sector.
Beauty Beware - The B-Corps Are Coming
It’s not news to say that today’s consumers are more sustainability conscious than previous generations – an attitude that’s having a massive impact on their purchase choices. But the beauty sector especially appears to be reacting slowly to the shift - particularly when it comes to waste from product packaging, which is probably its biggest obstacle and pitfall.
That’s not to say companies aren’t trying to be more environmentally aware. Lots of cosmetics brands are starting to roll out greener packaging solutions. Thanks to systems like Loop, consumers shopping at Tesco and Ulta Beauty in the US even have the chance to purchase durable, sustainable packaging which can be refilled at leisure, limiting plastic waste from beauty products.
But the fact is, most brands are still using a lot of virgin plastic or cardboard in their packaging. The UK Government's new plastic packaging tax, arriving in April 2022, will be a catalyst for positive change in this area, but there’s a lot more work to be done, and with eco-awareness growing - particularly in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic - the industry does not have a lot of time to adapt.
From fringe trend to mainstream category
We only need to look to the food and beverage industry for an insight as to how quickly eco-awareness can transform categories from the bottom up.
15 years ago, people were beginning to make connections between their supermarket trolleys and the climate crisis. But veganism was still really just a fringe trend – one that even attracted negative attention thanks to its links to activism and extremism (even if for a good cause).
Wind on a decade, and the global vegan market is now predicted to reach $31.4 billion by 2026. Sales of alternative meat products are growing at an annual rate of 24.5%, according to the Nielsen Total Food View. The appeal of veganism, which is now being endorsed by the UK and US Governments for helping us meet our emission reduction targets, has even defined a new category – flexitarianism - where people consciously eat less meat each week for the sake of the planet.
In roughly a decade, plant-based eating has been catapulted into the mainstream. The demand has been so strong that McDonald’s and Burger King – who have both built their empires on people’s love of burgers – even launched meat-free alternatives, to roaring success. Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, which launched in 2019, triggered a sales hike of almost 10%, to become one of its best-selling products. In the supermarket aisle, meanwhile, dedicated plant-based brands like Oatly and Beyond Meat have thrived, even amongst meat eaters.
What do you mean, there’s no vegan option?
Veganism’s sharp rise in popularity has forced traditional brands and retailers into a corner. Threatened by successful newcomers and FOMO, they’ve suddenly seen a commercial imperative to adapt their offerings in the same direction.
And it’s not just expensive, high-brow companies adapting - most value supermarkets including Tesco, Morrisons and Iceland have launched successful vegan ranges, showing there is demand at all price points for plant-based options. In fact, the meat-free food market is worth almost £600 million in the UK, a figure that’s set to rise to nearly £700 million in 2021.
Catering for the plant-based community has truly transcended the boundaries of diet preferences. It’s become a mark of inclusivity and cultural awareness. Bringing no vegan options to the table (literally) in 2021, could result in some brands being shunned entirely, even by flexitarians. If that’s not the hallmark of a true paradigm-shift, I don’t know what is.
Beware of the B Corps
It won’t be long before consumers begin taking a similarly strong stance with companies in the self-care sector. And now there’s another thorn in the side of the cosmetics industry – one backed by certification. B Corps.
B Corps are companies that legally have to consider the impact of all their decisions when it comes to people and planet. The movement has been building momentum for some time, but now we’re seeing more and more high-profile food and drink brands join – even those we wouldn’t traditionally expect, like BrewDog. Ocado even has a dedicated B Corp aisle now - the largest stockist of B Corp products of any major British grocery retailer, with 1,100 products from over 35 brands.
This is a sure sign of growing consumer demand for B Corp products. And as people’s awareness and understanding of what B Corp actually means continues to increase, they will come to expect this level of transparency and measurable impact on social and environmental issues from all the brands they’re buying from, whether they’re in the food, drink or cosmetics aisle.
We’re even looking into becoming B Corps ourselves at Free The Birds, so this movement is tricking down the supply chain. We’re at the very beginning of our journey to becoming B Corp and so it’s been very interesting for us to start thinking about the ongoing responsibilities and opportunities new B Corp companies have, beyond the certification itself.
Time for cosmetics brands to play their part
The plant-based movement and its allies has had a transformative effect on the food and drink sector, creating a positive, long-lasting change for people, society and the planet. I suspect the coronavirus pandemic, which scientists have tied to habitat destruction and deforestation, is going to encourage more of us to change our habits and be more conscious of that’s going into our baskets.
The pressure is really building therefore, for the cosmetics industry to play its part. That means seriously cutting down on packaging or reinventing the way it’s used: choosing easily recyclable materials, even if it’s harder to make them ‘look pretty’: making it easier for consumers to re-use packaging, and working with industry leaders and experts to ensure they take true accountability for the packaging they’re producing and reducing their carbon footprint.