STOCK TAKE | Vegan options get beefier and SA edges up the jobs ladder

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Vegan options get beefier

Please sir, I want some more!

Gone are the days when the only plant-based main offering available in restaurants was a helping of deep-fried, crumbed mushrooms with the consistency of an old shoe. Luckier customers, if you can call them that, were sometimes spoilt with the additional choice of overcooked creamed spinach and butternut. Neither of these options were too appealing and quite frankly even the titular character of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist would have balked at the thought of asking for more.

Nowadays the plant-based food industry, globally and in SA, has become increasingly sophisticated and offering a lot more to discerning palates. Not only do plant-based meat alternatives taste a lot better, but there is now a wide variety to choose from.  

The only problem though is the pricing point, as it is still a small portion of the food market in SA. Food is a volumes game, meaning that if there are relatively low volumes of a said product being made and sold, this unfortunately will translate into a higher price. As a result, consumers often have to, on average, fork out more for plant-based ready-made meals than for their meat counterparts.

But there are a lot of positive signs that this situation can ultimately change. First of all, there is a growing trend of people seeking healthier food choices, which is helping to support the plant-based sector in SA.

Because of this, not only are there more restaurants offering plant-based food offerings, some are even 100% focused on providing meat alternatives. Secondly, SA’s supermarkets are also offering a far wider variety of foods in this category. Thirdly, there are a lot of new entrants in the segment, which is fuelling competition. And as we all know nothing brings down pricing quite like competition does. 

Importantly, SA’s JSE-listed food producers are also exploring the plant-based sector, which will likely further lend support to reducing pricing over the longer term. Earlier this year, for instance, Tiger Brands’s Venture Capital Fund, announced it had acquired a minority stake in Cape Town-based Herbivore Earthfoods for an undisclosed amount.

Last week, during its results presentation, RFG, which manufactures products such as Rhodes and Bull Brand, also indicated it was monitoring the plant-based sector, having started expanding into the ready-made meal division of that segment. Management was at pains to point out that while it is a strongly growing market, this is coming off a low base.

But while RFG CEO Pieter Hanekom said the plant-based category is not a big business in the South African context at the moment, it certainly has potential to become one over time. With more players entering the market, pricing could become more attractive.

Furthermore "if you can also get the volumes up and get a bit of operational leverage that will also over time bring prices down", said Hanekom.

While a major reduction in pricing is clearly not something that will happen overnight, lovers of plant-based food can take some comfort from the fact that the likes of Tiger and RFG are taking this food segment seriously. Restaurant groups such as Famous Brands also say the trend towards healthier eating seems set to stay. Others will likely follow suit and with that will certainly come cries "for more" from SA’s consumers.

Good job

With the final month of the year finally here, offering the prospect of festivities worthy of the name, it now seems as if SA may have got through a year of war and plague with less scathes than feared.

There is some good news about, including the year passing without a major new corporate scandal, such as a new Tongaat or Steinhoff, but also, the JSE is hovering near positive territory for the year, and is getting some notable new listings. The rand is close to breaking through the right side of R17/$ level and surging inflation seemingly hasn't killed the consumer economy yet, while many JSE-listed firms, fresh off years of cost containment and hoarding cash during Covid-19, are still looking to expand.

Also, even though 2022 has SA's worst-ever bout of rolling blackouts, as well as floods, some - like Pakistan - have it much worse, Europe is battling with a land war, China is still battling with Covid-19, the US is still battling with extreme political polarisation, and events in the UK have helped dispel the notion, at least for some, that rich governments can't go bankrupt.

Not everything is good news, of course, but Thursday's unemployment data was at least a reason to be less Grinchy, showing a full percentage point drop to 32.9%. That's less than a third!

The improvement means South Africa’s jobless rate now trails Namibia and Nigeria on a list of 82 countries and the eurozone monitored by Bloomberg, though the global news agency goes on to note some of its data is outdated.

But even if there are celebrations about an improving labour market, SA's economic growth, according to the Reserve Bank's latest forecast, is still only pegged at 1.1% growth in 2023, before "accelerating" to 1.4% in 2024, and 1.5% in 2025. This is obviously not enough for a meaningful unemployment reduction, while there are also plenty of warnings that even this level of growth is ambitious.

In addition, before breaking out the champagne, it's worth noting that the National Development plan had set an objective of an unemployment rate of 14% by 2020. It was 24.9% in 2012 when the plan was released. 

Tweet of the day

Chart of the day

Source: Statistics SA

Number of the day

The fall in the number of discouraged work seekers in the City of Johannesburg in the third quarter of 2022, according to StatsSA. This is a decline of 117 000.


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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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