Co-op looks to drive change with vegan price drops
Pressure is mounting on vegan food prices after the Co-op dramatically slashed the cost of many plant-based products and urged competitors to follow suit.
The supermarket chain – which boasts more than 2,500 stores – reduced some items in its GRO range by more than 50% in May to bring them in line with meat equivalents.
A packet of vegan sausages went from £3 to £1.45 overnight, while the cost of meat-free burgers tumbled from £3 to £1.35. Prices were cut on a total of 29 fresh, chilled and ambient vegan lines.
The Co-op said the move was part of a 10-point plan to tackle climate change and move towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. It said it had spent £1.7 million to ‘close the price gap’ and that no supplier prices had been reduced.
A spokesperson for the supermarket said: “We firmly believe it shouldn’t cost shoppers more money to buy plant-based food, so as a business we’ve decided to invest over £1.7m ourselves to make our GRO range more accessible and affordable.
“We feel this is an important change and would encourage other retailers and brands to consider doing the same.”
Jason Gibb, founder of Bread & Jam festival, insisted independents should not fear supermarket price reductions.
He said plant-based food production prices were in freefall due to investment in huge facilities on the Continent that could create basic items such as meat-free burgers, sausages and mince on an industrial scale.
“I don’t think this will affect the speciality sector as they should be looking at products beyond these staples, where the opportunity is still huge,” he said. “I’m talking about plant-based cheese, dairy, eggs and baked goods. The innovation is coming via exciting emerging brands which are typically adopted and trialled first by the speciality sector.”
Al Overton, buying director at natural-food supermarket Planet Organic, questioned how the Co-op was able to slash its prices so much – and also the long-term sustainability of low-cost meat.
“It is unfair to judge without knowing the product well enough, but if its price has reduced from £3 to £1.35, it would seem that it was overpriced to begin with,” he said. “But when has food pricing ever been simple? The other question is, if we are talking about sustainability of pricing, how sustainable is selling a pack of beef burgers for £1.35?”
“Certainly it is good news if retailers no longer see plant-based products as margin earners,” he said. “This used to be the challenge with organic, where any product where there is the potential for a price premium came with a higher margin expectation for the retailer, making it doubly expensive.”
However, Lynne Elliot, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society said: “We support any move that makes plant-based food more accessible with fewer barriers to purchase.”