Vegan Chocolate Industry: An emerging possibility

Subeh Tarek :
Dear plant-based Britain
We’re sorry
We’re sorry it’s taken this long…

Addressing an apology to its home country Britain, Cadbury announced its first-ever vegan chocolate bars on October 6, 2021. With its long-speculated announcement, the company, the second largest in the world of confectionery offerings, joined big names like Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s in producing vegan chocolate bars. With such, Cadbury did not only please the vegan circle but also hinted at the emergence of a potential global marketplace – the vegan chocolate industry.
In a social system where animal hunting and consumption is considered a vital part of human history and survival, the vegan lifestyle is a fairly modern addition. Established as late as the 1900s, veganism refers to the way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Following the definition, a vegan diet maintains food habits that exclude the consumption of any animal products. So for a vegan person, foods from animals are off-limits, including common ingredients like eggs, cheese, milk, and honey. But aren’t we used to see milk, honey, and sprinkles of sugar in our evergreen chocolate commercials? From production adaptation to changing perceptions, that is precisely where the challenge lies for the mainstream chocolate industry.
Produced from the cacao trees, chocolate in its purest form is a vegan product. But the commercialized end offerings hardly conform to the restrictions of a vegan diet. Among three types of mainstream chocolate; dark (or plain), white, and milk chocolate, besides chocolate, the main ingredients remain milk, egg, and refined sugar- all being animal-based non-vegan products. While the case of dark chocolate can be resolved with a higher percentage of cocoa to create its rich and intense taste, white and milk chocolate creates a more complex scenario. The milk and egg substitutes to serve the purpose can be derived from rice, coconut, or nuts for the former and from soy, rapeseed oil, sunflower, etc. for the latter. But mass production of such substitutes often leads to non-vegan outcomes. The meticulous nature of the specialized making process makes the economic production of vegan chocolates difficult.
Despite the complexity, to secure the vegan population under the radar of commercial chocolate consumption, companies are advancing towards the vegan chocolate industry. Where the vegan chocolate producers have been catering to their consumers for a long, the newest penetration of mainstream chocolate companies in the specialized market does indicate a change. Cadbury’s move to expand its touch to the vegan community does not only imply the necessity of a new product but also channels the expansion of a new trade opportunity. The statistics also support the claim strongly. The global vegan confectionery market size was valued at USD 467.2 million in 2020. And after witnessing a 600% increase in the vegan population of the U.S in just three years, the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.8% from 2021 to 2028.
The evidence of growth and expected prosperity in this industry is quite prevalent to deny. While vegan products have been in the scene for quite a long time, the conventional chocolate industry is slowly transitioning its way in by researching the target audience. They realize that the prospects of the marketplace hide in the global shift in consumer biases. And much to their surprise, the ever-growing demand relies on both vegan and non-vegan consumers.
With a global population of approximately 7.9 billion, the vegan lifestyle has seen a boom in recent years. The growing awareness against animal cruelty and the rise in environmental conservation outlook has created the preference shift from animal-based to plant-based products. While among the non-vegans, the growing lactose intolerance among people has driven the growth of the industry. With an estimated 70% of lactose intolerance rate globally, the high demand for milk alternatives is predictable in its clock. And as vegan productions avoid milk, the population with food allergies and dairy product-based sensitivity is considering vegan chocolate as an alternative.
However, the solution comes at a cost. The vegan chocolates, especially the milk and white ones, can be counted as more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts. And the reason for such pricing dwells in their smaller operations and larger production boundaries that lead to high production costs. In Bangladesh as well, the vegan population is rising.
Where the dark chocolates are quite available to consume, most of the vegan alternatives are yet to reach the local markets. But the good news is, after catching up with western expectations, the chocolate companies are eyeing the opportunity of an Asian vegan chocolate industry as well. Given the scenario, the wait to taste the vegan sweetness from the local racks may be put to an end very soon!

(Subeh is a fourth semester student at Islamic University
of Technology).