Why is Vegan Food So Expensive?


When you first go vegan, it’s pretty common for your grocery costs to go up.

Most people start by substituting any meats and animal products they ate with a vegan replica.

For example, buying Beyond Burgers instead of beef, or buying vegan scrambled eggs instead of real eggs.

These vegan replacements are much more expensive, and there are 2 main reasons why.

Why Vegan Specialty Food is More Expensive Than Its Counterpart

The first reason is that in most parts of the world, animal products are heavily subsidized.

That allows manufacturers to sell them for less; vegan manufacturers don’t get the same benefits.

The other reason is because of supply and demand.

For most vegan specialty products, demand is limited

There just aren’t that many vegans in the first place, and a smaller percentage that want to buy a particular product. Companies can’t take full advantage of economies of scale to bring down the price.

Even when demand is overwhelming, like in the case of Beyond Burgers, it takes time to scale up.

beyond burger packaging

It’s taken years for Beyond Burger to have the manufacturing capabilities to keep up with demand and supply grocery stores and restaurants.

Now that they’ve upgraded their production facilities, prices are beginning to drop. I’ve seen local Beyond Burgers go from about $3.5 per patty to about $2 just in the last few years as more Canadians go vegan.

Let’s Compare Animal Staples to Vegan Alternatives

The best vegan substitute for meat is not “fake” meat like Beyond Burgers, but legumes.

Legumes (beans and lentils) have fairly high amounts of protein, and are incredibly healthy (here’s a detailed meat vs lentils comparison).

Let’s look at some common and simple vegan substitutes in recipes:

Animal Product Vegan Alternative Which is Cheaper
Meat Legumes Legumes (dry ones are cheapest, but even canned are cheaper). You can always freeze lentils or other legumes.
Dairy milk Almond or oat milk Dairy milk (about 50% cheaper in most places)
Eggs Tofu (for “scrambles”) or flax eggs (for baking) Similar

So depending on what you’re looking at, the vegan alternative may or may not be cheaper.

However, meat is the most common animal product that most people eat, which typically results in overall savings on a vegan diet.

Secondly, most vegans tend to eat more grains like rice and oats, both of which are incredibly cheap.

When animal products are removed from your diet, you need to find replacements, and many vegans turn to the above grains.

A Vegan Diet Can Be Cheaper Than an Omnivorous One

With all that being said, once you’re used to being vegan, you really don’t need to buy any of that specialty food.

My vegan diet now is way cheaper than my omnivorous diet was.

A healthy vegan diet is cheap. For example, some things you can do to save money are:

  • Buy beans in bulk and cook them yourself (dried beans don’t go bad for a long time)
  • Buy oats in bulk (way cheaper than any cereal)
  • Make your own oat or almond milk
  • Make your own hummus instead of buying pre-made
  • Plan ahead and meal-prep vegan dishes

Does that sound a bit boring?

It might at first, but if you actually take an interest in cooking, you’ll find that vegan meals made with these staples taste better than what you were formerly used to.

Start looking through recipe blogs like Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker to find fun things to make.

Vegans Are Less Likely to Impulse Buy

Before I was vegan, I would go to the store for one thing and end up with 10 or more.

After going vegan, that doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons:

  1. You have to check every ingredient label, which is an extra obstacle.
  2. Most “luxury” (i.e. junk) foods are not vegan, so it takes a lot of temptation off the table when in stores.
  3. Many vegans start to eat healthier (out of necessity at first), which reduces cravings for junk foods you may have been tempted by before.

Being vegan can be expensive, but it’s up to you.

If you stick to the very cheapest vegan diet possible, it will almost certainly be cheaper than a comparable omnivorous diet.

Stick to buying grains in bulk and soaking your own legumes, and you’ll find that your grocery bills will go down.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.