62% of the younger generation believe being vegetarian is a good way to help save the environment.

This article is part of a series of articles titled “Environment in Danger? Opportunities and Risks From a Young Generations’ Point of View”. Even though 70% of the younger generation think that gluing yourself to the street is not the right way to deal with the current situation, the prevailing feeling is that something must be done about climate change. We asked GrECo’s youngest generation for their opinions.

According to the Ö3 youth study, as vegetarianism gains traction, young adults are advocating for veggie-days in schools and universities. It is thought this trend could create a snowball effect, driving plant-based eating, at least a few times a week, beyond campuses and into communities.

Opportunities for growth in the vegetarian food sector.

The rising demand for plant-based meals presents opportunities for companies in the vegetarian market, influencing the economy and promoting sustainable food choices.

Companies who embrace vegetarianism are tapping into a rapidly growing market of health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers.  By offering a wide range of plant-based products companies can diversify their portfolio and reduce their reliance on traditional, more expensive, meat-based offerings.  This in turn leads to a rise in innovation across the sector.   Developing appealing vegetarian alternatives encourages companies to invest in research, driving product excellence and competitive advantages, whilst also positioning themselves as environmentally responsible, attracting eco-conscious consumers and enhancing their brand image.

The rise in vegetarianism goes hand-in-hand with another growing trend for regional foods.  In today’s business landscape, regionality offers companies a powerful advantage. It means sourcing materials and ingredients locally, reducing transportation distances, and operating closer to the customer. This approach translates to shorter supply chains, leading to lower costs and reduced carbon emissions, and it enhances supply chain resilience, making companies less vulnerable to disruptions. Moreover, being close to the customer fosters deeper connections and insights into local markets, enabling quicker responses to changing demands. In essence, regionality isn’t just about sustainability; it’s a strategic move that bolsters a company’s competitive position while contributing to a more agile and eco-friendly economy.

There are further competitive advantages to be had through vegetarianism for those not in the food industry.  Companies could use the increasing demand for vegetarian dishes to position themselves as attractive employers, signalling to employees that the company values diversity and respects their individual choices and beliefs, including dietary ones. As vegetarian options are often associated with healthier eating habits, providing these choices fosters a positive image of the company as one that cares about its employees’ health. Companies that offer vegetarian food options in their canteens can position themselves as environmentally conscious, which can appeal to employees who share these values. This might help to attract top talent by offering unique and appealing benefits such as a diverse and high-quality food programme.

The rise in vegetarianism leads to new risks for business

You could be forgiven for thinking that an increase in the popularity of plant-based food can’t have that many risks for a business.  Yet, there are still new risks arising from this fairly innocuous trend.  The biggest challenges for the food industry come from the supply chain.  Shifting to vegetarian products may require new sourcing strategies and could lead to supply chain complexities, such as the risks associated with sourcing raw ingredients that do not grow locally due to climatic conditions, such as almonds or avocados in CEE, as well as sourcing ingredients from sustainable sources and without pesticides. 

Other disruptions to the supply chain can occur due to natural hazards like hailstorms, heatwaves, droughts, and floods that can destroy entire crops. These unpredictable events can lead to significant financial losses and chaos in the product supply chain, emphasising the importance of protective measures, resilient farming practices, and insurance to safeguard operations and maintain a stable food supply chain.

As companies aim to meet rising demand for raw materials in agriculture, they may turn to genetic modification. However, this approach carries risks, including potential damage to their reputation due to consumer distrust. Additionally, insurers often don’t cover genetically modified products, leaving companies vulnerable to financial liabilities. Balancing innovation with public perception is crucial and underlines the need for transparent communication and responsible agricultural practices to mitigate these risks.

One other risk faced by companies providing plant-based products is that of allergies and intolerances. With more individuals developing allergies to common plant ingredients, incorrect product labelling can result in allergic reactions and harm to consumers. To mitigate this risk, precise and transparent labelling is essential, ensuring consumer safety, safeguarding a company’s reputation, and reducing potential legal liabilities.

Essential questions to ask ourselves are: who takes responsibility when there are increasingly more natural disasters but at the same time, more agricultural land is needed? Who bears the risk of increasing food intolerances or allergies, not to mention genetic changes caused by genetically modified foods? It is not only the food industry but especially politics, employers and the insurance industry who are asked to find solutions for our changing behaviour.

Cristian-Mihai Mihaila

Account Executive

T +43 664 888 44 778

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