18 January 2021, 08:42 AM
  • The month-long vegan campaign is having a record-breaking year, but what does its success mean for fine food retailers?
5 lessons for indie retailers from Veganuary 2021

Veganuary 2021 is slated to be the biggest since the campaign first launched in 2014, with more than 500,000 people officially signed up for the 31-day vegan challenge. As the campaign crosses its halfway point, what can independents learn from the developments so far?

1. The multiples have fully embraced Veganuary

Major supermarkets across the UK have not failed to see the appeal of the vegan diet, and they’ve ploughed ahead with new product developments and Veganuary-inspired campaigns.

Asda not only created 22 new plant-based products, but it also launched a trial of a vegan butcher counter at a store in Watford after recognising its customers were craving more vegan options. Online searches on asda.com for ‘vegan’ rocketed 175%, and the retailer expects vegan sales in January to rise by nearly 400%. Preyash Thakrar, Asda’s chief strategy officer, explained that demand for vegan food is growing: “We have seen a surge in people seeking out ways to easily enjoy a plant-based lifestyle.”

But Asda isn’t the only one taking its vegan game up a notch this year. Tesco and M&S launched their first Veganuary TV and radio ads, while Morrisons created a £25 Veganuary Essentials box.

Toni Vernelli, Veganuary’s head of communications, said the way Veganuary has been embraced this year among the multiples has been “game changing”. “[Retailers] are not simply using it as a marketing opportunity but are promoting the many benefits of plant-based eating and encouraging people to give it a try.” But there are still opportunities for indies to get ahead of the competition, as Toni explained in a recent column for Speciality Food.

2. Veganism has gone mainstream

As the moves by the UK’s largest supermarkets suggest, veganism has entered the mainstream consciousness this year and meat-free diets are gaining traction. Indeed, 6.5 million Britons say they intend to become vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian in 2021, according to research from the comparison site, finder.com.

If everyone were successful with this aim, more than a quarter of the population (26%) would be meat-free by the end of the year. While that may be unlikely, Sainsbury’s Future of Food report predicts that vegetarians and vegans will make up a quarter of British people by 2025, and flexitarians will account for just under half of all UK consumers.

Marc Coloma, the CEO and co-founder of Heura Foods, which claims to be Europe’s fastest-growing plant-based meat company, believes that the popularity of Veganuary in 2021 has proved that veganism is no longer “just a trendy fad, and is now fully mainstream”.

“More people are eating less meat and are following flexitarian diets. This means that vegan producers can really look at their product ranges to offer more alternatives to meat as there is a real appetite among a growing population to try new things,” Marc added.

Gabriel Bean, the founder of Grounded plant-based protein milkshakes, agrees that plant-based food is “100% here to stay, if not the future of food”.

3. Vegan food is popular year-round

Although Veganuary ensures that the vegan diet always gets a PR boost at the beginning of the year, there is evidence that consumers are searching for vegan options year-round. In fact, in December, Waitrose said pre-orders of its vegan Christmas foods were up 700% compared with the previous year.

“All year round you see more publications featuring vegan recipes, and there are more vegan cookbooks on the market than ever before,” says Marc. “I think an increasing trend is that more people are now aware of the damage to our environment and animal welfare that is caused by eating too much meat.”

Gabriel added that retailers should take this into consideration and continue to expand their plant-based offerings for this rapidly growing audience throughout the year. “The record number of signups to Veganuary this year is a sign of the times. People just want better from their food and drink, and plant-based is a catch-all vehicle for that – at least if it’s done naturally.

“We’re already seeing more and more mainstream brands launch plant-based offerings, but I genuinely believe these launches will compete with, or even take over their core offerings based on the soaring popularity of plant-based in the next 5 years,” Gabriel says. By investing in smaller brands that are bringing new products to the table, he says retailers can ensure they have their finger on the pulse of the vegan movement.

4. Health is key

While some consumers decide to try a vegan diet due to concerns about the environment or animal welfare, health is another popular driver. The link between the food we eat and our own health has grown increasingly clear amid the pandemic, meaning customers will not only be on the lookout for vegan food, but for plant-based options that prioritise their health, as well as that of the planet.

“Increased awareness on the importance of looking after your health, and the natural world, are the key driving forces behind the growing vegan movement,” Alan Bird, commercial director of Purition, says.

“I think the global pandemic has contributed towards the interest in plant-based diets. In lockdown, people were either incredibly health conscious or they were slipping into indulgent snacking habits. Those who have been eating more unhealthily may now try to reverse any weight gain as we start leaving our homes more and look to a vegan diet as a way to get back on track,” he adds.

5. Flexitarians are driving the change

While veganism makes up just 2% of Brits’ diets, according to YouGov, 14% of people follow a flexitarian diet – mainly vegetarian with occasional meat or fish.

More than a third of the UK population, or 22.1 million people, are working to cut down on their meat consumption, according to research cited by Asda. 2021 has also seen the rise of a new movement, Regenuary, which encourages people to eat food produced through regenerative agriculture for the month of January.

It’s clear that however they go about it, British consumers are actively seeking out a more sustainable diet. For retailers, this means that it will become increasingly important to cater to a growing desire for plant-based products among your typical customers.

“Retailers still think of [vegan] customers as a distinct group. Vegan products are still usually placed in specialist vegan aisles, away from the meat displays,” Marc says. “Retailers therefore need to be better at promoting their plant-based lines, as they may be missing out on this growing market and failing to take advantage of sales opportunities. 

“If they placed vegan products within their meat sections, for instance, more people may actually choose vegan products. Because many aren’t, potential customers of meat alternatives may not look for the specialist separate vegan aisle or simply forget that it exists,” he adds.

Retailers can keep these five ideas in mind through the remainder of Veganuary and beyond as more and more consumers are drawn to the plant-based lifestyle.

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