If vegetarians and vegans were in charge, 2011 would have been the year of plants. The popularity of plant-based diets reached a new high with one-third of Americans reporting that they eat vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time. The Vegetarian Resource Group also estimates that 48 percent of Americans seek good-tasting, vegetarian food, according to the group’s 2011 national poll.
Mintel’s most recent Vegetarian Foods report estimates that the vegetarian food retail market generated $1.6 billion in sales in 2011. Foods such as soymilk, cheese substitutes, tofu, and vegetarian entrees and side dishes—once found predominantly in only natural foods stores—are now commonplace at mainstream grocery outlets, including Walmart and Safeway. With so many choices and greater availability of veggie options, any vegan or vegetarian will tell you that now is the best time to eat animal-free.
“Ten years ago, people couldn’t pronounce the word vegan, and now it’s everywhere,” says Joseph Connelly, publisher of VegNews. “It’s definitely becoming mainstream.”
Following the vegan-raw trend
Vegans support raw because, well, it’s vegan. By default, almost all prepared raw foods are also vegan, allowing for a lot of crossover between the two markets. Yet, “raw foods are where vegan foods were 20 to 25 years ago,” says VegNews Publisher Joseph Connelly. Although not as universally accepted as vegan foods, raw foods are gaining market share. Retailers may not double their money overnight by stocking raw, but Connelly calls the foods a wise long-term investment.
Kale chips are one raw, vegan food that exploded onto the natural scene last year. Nutritiously dense, phytonutrient-rich kale—a staple of many vegetarian and vegan diets—is dehydrated to form a crispy, healthier alternative to potato chips, with as many flavors to match: plain, barbeque, “cheese” and even chocolate. In fact, the leafy green and its many derivatives were so big last year that VegNews called kale the “it” vegetable of 2011.