Kiwis desperately looking for ways to slash their grocery bills are finding that giving up meat and dairy is making a huge difference to their weekly food costs.
One Tauranga businesswoman, Mila Arena, said people could save up to 40 per cent by going vegan.
“Research suggests that vegans spend on average 40 per cent less on food than omnivores,” said Arena. “Pasta, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables are among the cheapest foods on the planet.”
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Arena is referring to research from UK-based analytics company Kantar, which showed that on average, plant-based meals eaten at home cost 40 per cent less than meat or fish-based meals.
Since the research was carried out, soaring costs of meat and dairy mean that plant-based substitutes are now even cheaper according to European research published this year, which showed meat had risen by 21 per cent between February and June this year, whereas plant-based products had only increased by two per cent.
In 2022, research by Kantar found that 19 per cent of New Zealanders say they now either “always” or “mostly” eat a vegan or vegetarian diet – up from 13 per cent in 2020.
Arena claimed that vegan diets are particularly low cost if you don’t buy meat substitutes, and instead make food from scratch.
“Newbie vegans buy animal product alternatives, like fake meats or cheese, or processed vegan foods, and this means their shopping bill won’t be any cheaper,” she said
“Stick to what’s in season in root veggies and greens, and grow your own where you can. Buy grains and nuts in bulk and cook your own beans from scratch.”
Claire Insley of the Vegan Society New Zealand, who has been vegan for 22 years, said her grocery bills have not been affected by rising food costs.
“My grocery bills are still fairly cheap,” said Insley. “I am not hugely noticing the cost of my staples increasing. Those who eat a wholefood vegan diet will likely be finding the same. Beans, pulses and lentils remain fairly cheap, and rice and pasta have not significantly increased.
“Oats and other grains still seem to be holding their own at the moment. It’s very easy these days to grow your own veggies – even in a confined space – and there’s even mushroom growing kits readily available, which are great value for money.”
Joy Ann Satchell didn’t turn vegan until she was 70 years old, and likes the fact that she is now saving money as well as the planet and animals thanks to her diet. She’s welcomed the fact that more people are trying a vegan lifestyle, even if they start to do so for budgeting reasons.
“There are of course ethical reasons for turning vegan,” she said, “but it is a bonus that you save money too. I have gone back to basics, buying dried food from Binn Inn. It’s cheap, healthy and tasty, can be used to replace expensive alternatives and is cheaper than tinned food.”
Full time student Ape White said he’s had many conversations around grocery costs with his flatmates.
“They tend to spend another $30-40 by consuming animal products in place of my non-animal products,” said Ape.
Kim Humphry said her family of four spend almost $100 less buying vegan food than her friends with similar family sizes.
“We spend roughly $160 per week,” said Humphry. “That includes dog kibble and bird seed, baby wipes and a small pack of nappies for childcare as we use cloth at home.
“I buy in-season fruit and vegetables and grow all my own herbs. I rarely buy any vegan alternative meats as it is just cheaper to use lentils, tofu or chickpeas, plus it’s healthier for my kids. I meal-plan every meal and only buy what I need. My non-vegan friends with two kids tend to spend between $220-250 per week.”
Auckland mayoral candidate Dr Michael Morris, who is a vegan, has published research that he carried with Dr John Livesey that compares the costs of plant-based protein with animal protein in supermarkets in Auckland and Christchurch, as well as the nutritional value measuring protein per 100 grams.
When updating the prices that he collated in 2020, not only is plant-based protein cheaper, it can rival meat on nutritional value.
For example, comparing prices of various food proteins collected in Tauranga in July, Stuff found that textured vegetable protein is $0.65 per 100 grams, compared to minced beef at $1.60 per 100 grams. The plant protein contains 47 grams of protein per 100grams, compared to beef which contains 23 grams.
Red lentils were $0.72 per 100 grams with 24 grams of protein. Cows milk powder cost $1.20 per 100 grams, but had just three grams of protein. Colby cheese cost $0.98 per 100g with 23.3 grams of protein.
Morris said this dispels the common myth that a plant-based diet is more expensive or less healthy.
“We need to put to rest the fallacy that eating a nutritious and tasty whole-foods, plant-based diet is more expensive,” he said.
“The cost to the consumer for a healthy whole-foods plant-based diet as advocated by the EAT Lancet recommendations is actually cheaper than the current omnivorous New Zealand diet.
“Of course, if one substitutes meat products for plant-based, highly processed burgers then the cost of protein goes up, but this is not a realistic scenario for health-conscious vegans on a budget.”
A group set up for New Zealanders looking for tips on how to save money is attracting hundreds of new members by the day, with membership increasing by more than 2000 since May according to the administrators of the page.
Food is a popular topic on the page, with people commenting on how they save by using meat substitutes. One such person is Hannah Cook.
“If I was to make a bolognaise, think of how much cheaper it is to make it with lentils/pulsed walnuts/mushrooms than it is with beef mince,” she said.
“Replace chicken in curries with chickpeas. Replace mince in chilli with beans. It’s immensely cheaper. The vegetable content doesn’t need to change drastically, just a swap of protein. Beans, lentils, rice and pasta are some of the cheapest foods around.”
Cook said she also saves by baking with vegan ingredients.
“Vegan baking is also a great cost cutter – a recipe that uses ‘milk’, oil, flour and sugar is much cheaper than one that uses eggs and butter. With many recipes, you wouldn’t taste the difference.”
Another option is to not give up meat up completely, but save by having more non-meat meals said commenter Marie Lenihan, who claimed she only spends $5-7 per meal for protein for a meat-free protein meal for two adults and two children, compared to a meat dinner which would cost her $10-12 for the protein.
“We are using smaller amounts of meat per meal and having 1-2 meat free dinners per week, such as tofu stir fries or Mexican with pea-protein,” said Lenihan. “Add lentils to bulk out protein and nutrition in curries, stews or casseroles with less meat.”
Mother of three Juliet Clout said her family cut back on meat to help with their “ever-increasing grocery costs”. She joined lots of social media groups for ideas and tips on nutritious food at a lower cost.
“It feels healthier eating several vegetarian meals per week,” said Clout. “We go to local markets for the best deals and freshest veg. Our three kids, aged 13, 12 and eight, are loving the new tasty meals and we save about $50-80 per week. With a growing family to feed, we work hard to keep the food healthy and nutritious.”
Going vegan or vegetarian is not necessarily by choice said group member Mel Hirst.
“A lot of people aren’t doing this because they choose too,” she said. “They are doing it because they have to, to feed their families and still have a roof over their heads.
“I think more have cut down their meat purchases, only buy specials and have limited meat in some meals due to the cost of living. Personally, our family will always be meat eaters and prefer to stretch meat out to many meals rather than only having vegetarian meals.”
Hirst claimed it is not that people are actively choosing not to eat meat, but are being forced to because of spiralling food costs.
“More people are growing vegetables at home, spreading meat out to multiple meals and eating more vege and lentil-type meals to feed their families and fill the tummies,” she said. “They are doing it because they have to if they want to have rent/mortgage and electricity paid.”