Is vegan food cheaper? How much plant based diet costs amid cost of living crisis and Veganuary 2023

Vegan food has become more readily available in supermarkets and other retailers over the last few years - but can it save you money?

While the UK has just entered a New Year, many of the cost of living pressures that were with us in 2022 are likely to stick around for some time yet.

Overall inflation is still close to record highs and food prices are continuing to soar. Meanwhile, a recession is expected to hit the country throughout the next 12 months, which is likely to increase unemployment.

It all means people up and down the country will need to keep watching their pennies over the coming months. But at the same time, it can be hard to reduce spending on life’s necessities - such as food.

The vegan diet is often touted as a good way to be more environmentally friendly and improve your health, especially at this time of year when Veganuary takes place. Some people even argue that going plant based can save you money.

But is it actually cheaper to go vegan? Here’s what you need to know.

Vegan foods, like non-meat containing burgers, are not necessarily cheaper than their meat counterparts (image: Getty Images)

What is the vegan diet?

The vegan diet is one that includes no animal products. So, if you follow it, you will not eat any meat or dairy.

Even foods that do not involve killing animals, like eggs, are avoided by those who follow a fully plant based diet. The diet is part of a wider lifestyle that avoids any animal-derived items, such as leather or gelatine.

Every year in January, thousands of people across the UK take part in a challenge known as Veganuary. It involves people attempting to follow a vegan diet for the whole month.

Is vegan food cheaper?

How cheap or expensive a diet is depends on several different variables - most notably supermarket shelf prices and what kind of items you’re purchasing.

On some metrics, plant based food comes out as being more expensive than meat or dairy. For example, a litre of oat milk alternative tends to cost between £1.50 to £2, while dairy milk currently tends to price in at around £1.15 a litre. Research from 2021 by data analytics firm Kantar found that milk alternatives were 23% more expensive on average than dairy milk.

A typical meat burger may cost you around £8 per kilogram, while something like the Beyond Burger can set you back more than £19 per kilogram.

Some processed vegan foods - like oat milk - are more expensive because of their limited production capacity (image: AFP/Getty Images)

One of the key reasons why these vegan foods cost more than their animal-derived cousins is that they do not have the economies of scale, at present, to push down their costs. The Russia-Ukraine war has also driven up the price of some key ingredients, like rapeseed oil.

At the same time, those following a vegan diet comprising mainly of unprocessed pulses, fruit and vegetables could have a much cheaper food bill than someone who eats meat and dairy. A 2021 report by the University of Oxford showed that vegan diets could be more than a third cheaper than a typical diet containing animal products.

Meanwhile, analysis of Christmas 2022 food prices by The Vegan Society found that a typical vegan festive dinner cost £22.18 - £13.29 cheaper than a traditional Christmas meal containing turkey and all the trimmings.

Canny supermarket shopping can help you cut your food bills (image: AFP/Getty Images)

So, ultimately, whether or not a vegan meal is cheaper depends on what kind of food you’re eating. If it has had to go through a lot of processing to get to your plate, it may well work out as being more expensive than meat and dairy.

How to have a cheap Veganuary

If you’re giving Veganuary a go this year - or you’re merely trying to cut down on how much meat and dairy you eat - there are several ways to make sure your food shop is as cost effective as it can be. NationalWorld explainers about how to shop effectively in supermarkets and eat healthily on a budget may help you.

The Vegan Society has offered advice on its website about how to keep costs down if you’re trying out a vegan diet. Its suggestions include:

  • Shopping own-brand
  • Checking out the ‘reduced’ section in supermarkets
  • Seeking out offers in health stores, e.g. Holland and Barrett
  • Batch cooking (and freezing what you don’t eat)

Meal planning may also help you to keep costs down. Veganuary offers several free meal plans on its website.