Putting your money where your mouth is: is veganism really cheaper?

Pre-warning. Diets can often be an emotive subject. This article serves only as an analysis tool regarding certain aspects that focus on a plant-based or vegan diet and picks up on the financial aspects only. If you find anything about food triggering, this article might not be for you!

The rise of the plant-based diet is undeniable. Veganuary has gone from a virtual unknown to a hugely popular way to start the new year, on every corner chain stores are bringing out their new ‘Vegan versions’ of regular products and there has been documentary after documentary praising the way of eating.

We all know the success of the Greggs vegan sausage roll – I know it took at least 4 attempts for me to get one due to it being sold out – but what about everyday eating? Meat alternatives? Nut milk? Heck, oat milk?

I’m not here to go deep into science or nutritional specifics, as I frankly don’t know enough, but I wanted to compare some financial aspects, and some tips if you wish to pursue a vegan diet. Spoiler alert: it isn’t as clear cut as you think.

Eating Out and Convenience Options
The one thing that is notably different about eating vegan meals out is that they can be the same price or more expensive. As companies explore more and more plant-based options, it is expected that demand will begin to match supply and the risk they are having to take becomes lower as more people are buying them. As more and more companies ‘veganise’ their most popular products (KFC, Subway) it has to make food more accessible and not less, by increased prices. Caffè Nero and Pret are now offering croissant options at a similar price to their regular ones. The price can’t be higher that their other options – people wouldn’t even be inclined to try, and the product would be a failure. There are still weird exceptions to this. Vegan brunch is often the same price as a meat one (despite the notable price difference between bacon and avocado); most coffee shops will charge you for a non-dairy milk and evening meals now have a separate menu with prices to match!

Verdict: More Expensive, but plateauing.

Meat and Dairy Alternatives 
I have to say I still think that most meat alternatives are cheaper than meat. Whilst you don’t always get a like for like option, they are typically cheaper, or at least more long-lasting than meat. Where this is different, is usually in the milk and cheese alternatives. There is still a lot of development and research into producing the closest replicas to the real thing. Personally, coconut cheese is still a bit weird for me – but it’s getting there. Oatly has produced a great milk alternative for teas and coffee (that is my preferred milk in hot drinks) but the price per litre in my local supermarket, is still 94.5% more than regular dairy milk. 

Verdict: Variable – will net off overall to be a neutral cost.

Eating at Home and Preparing Food
Realistically, this option is cheaper regardless of whether you are eating meat or not. But if you are following a wholefoods plant-based or vegan diet, it’s likely to be the cheapest option. If you stick to taking your main sources of food from fresh fruit and veg, beans, legumes, rice and pasta it is a very inexpensive diet. If you’re worried about getting enough protein in your diet (as most often are when switching away from meat), pitta and hummus is an inexpensive way to get a complete protein source. On average, 100g of kidney beans costs 145% less than 100g of rump steak, and whilst it provides 10g less protein per 100g, it also provides 12g less fat per 100g. 

Verdict: Cheaper

How to Save

If you’re transitioning into a plant-based or less meat focussed diet, it will be more expensive to start with. You’ll be swapping out, or buying multiple versions of your foods, trying and testing new things and finding the right way forward for you. 

However, there are some simple tips to make a diet change cheaper:

  • Buy your staples from lower-priced supermarkets. Honestly, Linda McCartney sausages (a veggie’s staple) are cheaper in Iceland than most other supermarkets. Most low price supermarkets also have inexpensive tinned food, rice or dry pasta.
  • Do some coffee shop tourism. See where offers dairy-free milk at no additional cost (or which one is cheapest) and go there.
  • Don’t go for branded options. It goes without saying for all shopping, but unbranded foods or supermarket own are cheaper and often just as good. Most supermarkets will sell soya milk from about 50p per litre, which is a cheap and cheerful way to swap out regular milk.
  • Loose fruit and veg or any ‘weigh your own’ stations are usually cheaper, and will save on waste (therefore, also cheaper).
  • If you always buy lunch out, invest in a cookbook and do some experimenting on a Sunday to take a packed lunch(es) for the week. It’s a good way to try new things and learn what you like, as well as saving money on eating out. Plus, economies of scale means that you’ll be able to get a lower price per meal for more that you make!
  • Don’t just head to vegan or vegetarian-only restaurants. Although it is nice to be able to pick whatever you like on the menu with no worries, you can often pay for the privilege. Contrary to what I have said earlier about it being more expensive to eat out, there are lots of restaurants are now incorporating great options.
  • Finally, do your research. A little investigation goes a long way.

Okay so back to the main points here. This is purely a financial analysis of diet prices. And frankly, the final verdict seems to be pretty stalemate. The diets are difficult to compare like for like, and whilst the price of beans might be a lot cheaper than steak, if your preference is a steak and you reach for a meat alternative option, that is more expensive than the beans. 

The results for each person would be subjective on their dietary requirements and desires – i.e specifically high protein or low carb – junk/convenience food or home-cooked meals.

A lot of these alternatives are in development, and even more so in the restaurant/coffee shop/bar industry which will drive up the price. It’s simple supply/demand and risk appetite. Also, if you’re just dabbling, or only one person in the household is eating it, it will be more expensive. However, if you can plan properly, a plant-based diet can be remarkably cheaper.

All opinions are my own. No paid or sponsored content. Quoted and relevant links credited. All figures are based on my own calculations for the UK. Information correct at the time of publication. For entertainment only – this is not intended for advice.

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