Why Is Plant-Based 'Meat' So Damn Expensive?

It's not easy being green 🌱

“I’ll try to eat less meat this week”, you think, as you pick up a plant-based alternative to your usual beef burger. Save the planet, and all that.

Then you discover it’s almost double the price of the meaty version just down the aisle. Sigh. Sorry Greta, beef wins.

Supermarkets have expanded their ranges of meat-alternative products at a rate of knots in the last five years, with a variety of items that would tempt even the most ardent carnivore. There’s one problem, though: the price.

Plant-based alternatives to regular meat products often cost more per kg than the real deal. Take Bird’s Eye nuggets as an example. A standard packet of the brand’s chicken dippers costs £1.55 for 220g, or £7.05 per kg, at Tesco. The brand’s vegan alternative – green cuisine chicken-free dippers – costs £2.50 for 220G, or £11.37 per kg.

You’ll find plenty of other price hikes across branded and supermarket own-brand products, spanning meat-free burgers, sausages and more. It’s making flexitarianism inaccessible for some, and simply unappealing to others.

So why are these products so pricey?

“Plant-based alternatives are still a relatively new and developing part of the market, which means more money is spent on research and innovation to ensure they meet demand for taste and quality,” Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, tells HuffPost UK.

“It also means we’re yet to see all the efficiencies from large-scale production. However, all retailers recognise the importance of this market and are working with suppliers to reduce prices so they’re accessible to all.”

Once production scales up and the market matures, competition will make sure people get the value they expect, adds Opie. And the good news is, the market is moving in the right direction. In December 2020, Plant & Bean, a developer of plant-based food products, announced it would be opening Europe’s largest plant-based meat production facility in the UK to help drive down prices.

“Right now, 65% of consumers don’t eat plant-based meats due to price and quality,” the company’s CEO, Edwin Bark, said at the launch. “With our strategy, brands will finally have the means to scale high-volume product ranges in order to lower the price-point for consumers.”

Supermarkets are also starting to make positive changes. In April, Co-Op said it was investing more than £1.7 million to reduce the cost of 29 vegan products and make its vegan “meat” cost the same as the real thing, as part of plans to go carbon-neutral by 2025. As part of the move, it’s own-brand vegan sausages fell from £3 to £1.45, its meat-free burgers fell from £3 to £1.35, and its meat-free mince went from £3 to £1.75. No ingredients were changed.

Until the price of meat-free “meats” is decreased across the industry, the Vegan Society says it’s still possible to embrace a vegan or flexitarian lifestyle by choosing other, non-processed products.

“It’s actually a misconception that vegan food is necessarily more expensive than animal products,” a spokesperson told HuffPost. “Some of the cheapest staples of a vegan diet are rice, pasta, vegetables, beans and pulses. Of course, processed and ready-made foods can be a little more expensive.”

The charity’s Live Vegan for Less campaign hopes to increase access to affordable plant-based food, and support vegans who find themselves in financial difficulty.