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Last year, 400,000 people signed up for Veganuary – The Vegan Society’s campaign that encourages people to adopt a purely plant-based diet for the first month of the year. It was a huge jump from the 250,000 in 2019, and 2021 is set to be even bigger, not least because of the COVID-19-effect that’s led to a heightened awareness of the link between the food we eat and our health.
There seems to be no stopping the movement. Every year, it seems to grow exponentially, with even more celebrities and influencers getting behind the campaign, and food businesses and retailers using the opportunity to cater to plant-based eaters with new product launches left, right and centre.
This year, over 1,200 vegan products and menus were launched for Veganuary. It also saw the first Veganuary offerings from fast-food giants KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King. Deliveroo witnessed a 78% increase in orders of vegan dishes, and over 50 companies took part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge, including Pizza Hut and M&S. Retailers were caught up in the hype too, with sales of plant-based products like Hellman’s Vegan Mayo growing nearly 400 percent in Tesco, and M&S’s Plant Kitchen No Chicken Kiev selling at a rate of four every minute since its 2nd January launch. Whilst it’s not only the multiples and chains that are jumping on the movement, it certainly shows the scale of the impact Veganuary has had.
It’s showing no signs of slowing down, and given the impact of coronavirus this year and its effect on consumer behaviour, it is predicted to grow even more for 2021.
For businesses in the food industry, Veganuary brings with it a host of marketing and sales opportunities. So how can fine food producers and indie retailers capitalise on the campaign in 2021?
Catering to customers
As the Veganuary movement grows, opportunities for the food sector are rife. That said, as with anything, it’s important not to seem as though you’re purely trying to profit from the campaign, but instead offer something of value to your customers that’s still in line with your company ethos. Whether you’re launching new products to market, or stocking a vegan range in-store for the first time, keeping the customer in mind is key by helping to make people’s Veganuary that much easier.
“For us, it’s about making vegan food accessible, appealing and exciting, something a little bit different than the norm – customers want to try something new, the next big thing!” Joe Coulter and Ben MacAndrews of PEP Kitchen told us.
“Our ethos has never been about just catering for vegans. From the start, we’ve been about encouraging people to explore and enjoy plant-based options, whether this is a fulltime choice or not. Veganuary for us simply gives us a bigger platform to shout about what we believe in, when we know more people than normal might be listening, and highlight what we, as a brand, are all about.”
The team at Field & Forest Foods echoes that sentiment. For the vegan food producer, which supplies plant-based products to the foodservice industry, and more recently direct to consumers, it’s about developing products that will make it easier for people to reduce their meat intake for Veganuary and beyond.
“We’ve always been very conscious about creating really good products that taste good, rather than thinking ‘This is a trend, we can produce XYZ to cater to that trend’,” Kate Denyer, Field & Forest Foods marketing director, said.
“We’re in the market of looking at people who are interested in flexible eating, who want to replace meat, and creating products that make it easy for them to make a change.”
In fact, it’s these ‘vegan-curious’ and ‘flexitarian’ consumers who take part in Veganuary that could be the perfect customer base for many brands in the future.
“I attended the Vevolution festival a few years ago, and their message was to be perfectly imperfect,” Kate said. “If you’re reducing your meat intake a couple of days a week, or you manage five days out of seven, then surely that’s a better step forward than being at polarised angles. With 100% vegans and 100% meat eaters, there are a lot of people in between who are wanting to make a change for their health and the environment, and are seeing the benefits. I think it’s about saying ‘Well, you’re curious, so let’s help you and create great products that you like eating, and that make it easy for you to make those changes.”
Spreading the message
The power of marketing should never be underestimated, and it’s no different when it comes to Veganuary. In fact, the initiative is all about marketing, from its downloadable posters, to its social media campaigns and hashtags.
For retailers, in-store activations will always be beneficial as a way of upselling vegan products to customers. You may also consider setting up a vegan section if you haven’t already done so. Traditional forms of advertising such as physical posters and flyers may also help spread the word about your vegan offers.
But particularly given the younger generation of plant-based eaters today, it’s important to consider digital marketing as well. You could consider ads such as Google ads, boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram ads. But even if budget doesn’t allow for any marketing spend, utilising your social media platforms is a great way of engaging customers.
“The use of social media, particularly Instagram, is really happening for this key market, and not just for retailers,” Kate explained. “There are lots of messages from Veganuary as an organisation, from PETA, and from other organisations that are really feeding into social media.”
Whether you have a new product you’d like the Vegan Society team to try, or you simply want to share posts from other organisations that you think your customers will find useful, social media is a powerful tool that can help you increase your reach, improve your customer relations, and in turn, boost sales.
As ever, communications have a strong role to play, too. It’s worth engaging with your customers through digital platforms such as newsletters and social media. Spread the message about what you’ll be offering throughout the campaign, any new products you’ll be stocking for a limited time, and any offers you may have. You may also consider sharing plant-based recipes, perhaps even through videos shot in situ for those who also have a café or restaurant.
For growers and producers, now is also a great time to promote the story behind your products. Keeping in mind that the majority of people participate in Veganuary for health (38%) and animal welfare (37%) reasons, according to The Vegan Society, they may be interested to learn about the nutritional benefits of particular foods, or how your foods are grown and produced.
Life beyond Veganuary
Veganuary lasts just 31 days of the year. So, what happens during those remaining 334 days? Remember that the Veganuary campaign often gives the ‘vegan-curious’ the opportunity to test the waters of a plant-based diet. You, too, may use the month to test the water with new products and activations to see how they may fit in with your business during the rest of the year.
“Veganuary is such a moment in the year that it’s a great time to launch new products and to use that as a platform,” Kate said. “We know that when our wholesale partners have done that, they’ve continued with their presence and sales throughout the year. It’s the same with retailers, and people may often ask ‘Is it the marketing that is ruling the need or does the need create demand for the products?’ As we know, it’s a cycle – they feed into each other. Veganuary is a great time to launch products, but it’s about being sustainable.”
Joe and Ben added that whilst Veganuary is an obvious period to shine a spotlight on your brand, business and products, the marketplace can become quite crowded during the 31-day period. It’s worth asking yourself about the longevity of anything you offer during Veganuary, and how it may fit into your future strategy.
“Our belief is that if your brand is strong enough, there should be room to shout about it 365 days a year,” they said.
“The reality is that the world is changing, and people are becoming more aware of their eating habits and the knock-on impacts on the wider environment. Diets are changing and more and more people are exploring alternative diets and ideas such as veganism.”
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