Vegans focus on animal welfare, plant-based eaters home in on health and sustainability

While “vegan” emphasizes animal rights and excludes all animal products, “plant based” focuses on health and sustainability, attracting even meat-eaters.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

March 20, 2024

2 Min Read
plant-based food

At a Glance

  • Veganism is an ethical stance that excludes all animal products, while plant based focuses on health and sustainability.
  • Vegans avoid animal-derived products in all aspects of life; Plant based is almost exclusively used for food and beverages.
  • Despite differences in ethical focus, both vegan and plant-based diets are experiencing increased adoption rates.

The terms “vegan” and “plant based” are often used interchangeably. There are some nuances, however, that impact how consumers seek out and select vegan and plant-based products. Adding complexity to the issue is the lack of federally regulated definitions for “vegan” and “plant based.”

Veganism is about more than food

People who claim the title of “vegan” avoid all products that are derived from animals or were made using methods that harm or exploit animals, from foods and beverages to clothing and personal care products. In food and beverage, that means vegans eliminate all dairy products and products that include dairy ingredients, as well as products made from honey, which is produced by bees and insects.

Plant based, on the other hand, is a term that is used almost exclusively in the food and beverage market.

Veganism focuses on animal rights, cruelty

The term was first coined by Donald Watson, who launched The Vegan Society in 1944 with a small group of fellow “nondairy vegetarians.” According to The Vegan Society, the term “veganism” is defined as:

"... a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

Compared to plant based, vegan is a term that focuses on ethical principles, namely the protection and preservation of animals.

Plant based appeals to health, sustainability

“Plant based” is a newer term compared to vegan, which started gaining momentum in recent years. According to data from Innova Market Insights, launches of products described as plant based increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 519% between 2016/17 and 2020/21.

Unlike veganism, which is driven primarily by ethical principles, the majority of consumers who seek out plant-based foods and beverages are driven by health and sustainability priorities. Per a 2020 consumer survey by Innova Market Insights, 53% of consumers said they choose plant-based products for health.

The broad appeal of plant based captures meat eaters, too

People who eat meat regularly do not meet the ethical standards established by veganism. Many consumers who eat meat regularly, however, also seek out and regularly incorporate plant-based foods into their diets. Innova’s research shows 60% of global households eat meat-free meals at least one time per week.

This flexible approach to plant-based eating extends to food and beverage innovation, where new products targeting consumers who are trying to reduce their meat intake include concepts such as plant-based meat alternatives with animal ingredients to improve taste.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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