11 February 2021, 09:00 AM
  • Veganuary may be over for this year, but the vegan craze isn’t going anywhere. Get ahead of the plant-based bonanza by discovering ways to cater to the growing taste for meat-free food
The future of the plant-based trend

Veganuary 2021 has been dubbed the campaign’s most successful year ever, with a record of more than 580,000 people signed up, compared to 400,000 in 2020. International celebrities such as Jane Goodall, Ricky Gervais and Paul McCartney gave the 31-day vegan challenge a boost, and the food and drink industry responded to the growing demand by launching hundreds of new plant-based products.

Deliveroo noted an increase in demand for vegan food, with order volume from plant-based restaurants increasing by 146% and vegan options from other restaurants growing 114% year-on-year. Vegan food brands also saw their sales jump, with Meatless Farm’s growing 111% year-on-year. “This has really set the tone for 2021 and we’re looking forward to an even bigger Veganuary next year,” says managing director Michael Hunter. Plant-based meat start-up THIS, meanwhile, notched over £300,000 of retail sales in the first week of January alone.

These statistics confirm what the food sector already knows – the vegan trend is here to stay beyond January. If independents are still in doubt whether the plant-based trend is for them, they may want to take a leaf out of the book of Croots Farm Shop.

The Derbyshire-based shop began increasing its vegan range of products around 18 months ago to include Lincolnshire, Cumberland and tomato and basil sausages, vegan burgers and a plant-based homity pie, which are all made on-site.

The non-meat sausages have not only been successful, but they are so popular they often sell out, and sales were up by 117% year-on-year at the end of January. “We make the vegan sausages and other alternatives in our production kitchens here at Croots and they have been a super addition to our range,” Steve Croot, who runs the farm shop with wife Kay, tells Speciality Food. “In fact, I can’t make them fast enough. Sometimes they almost fly out of the freezer or off the shelves. I think we might have to invest in a bigger sausage machine so that I can keep up with demand because the vegan sausages are especially popular.”

However, balancing options to cater to all of your customers’ tastes is still important. Steve notes that Croots’ butchery department and meat sales also performed strongly during January. “We offer our customers the option of buying outstanding meat and superb vegan alternatives, and this seems to go down very well.”

Other retailers who invested in the plant-based movement have also seen their efforts pay dividends. According to data from Kantar, vegan-specific ranges were bought by 6.6 million households in January, up 10% from 2020. Tesco reported that demand for plant-based foods rose by 35% year-on-year, with sales of certain products rising by up to 750%. Marks & Spencer has seen strong uptake in certain products, with one of its popular New York Style No Beef Pretzel Roll being sold every 30 seconds after its launch, according to the Mail Online.

The takeaways from Veganuary 2021 have been clear: the vegan food movement is growing, in part due to the rise of flexitarian eating styles and a desire for healthier habits, and retailers have much to gain from making the most of these opportunities. But although it’s moving into the mainstream, the proportion of vegans in the population still remains low, so balance is key.

Focusing on stand-out, premium indie brands has also proved popular. “We saw some fantastic support from independent and fine food retailers across the UK, providing local communities with access to local, seasonal and artisanal vegan products for those giving Veganuary a try,” Toni Vernelli, Veganuary’s international head of communications and marketing tells Speciality Food.

“Despite the lockdown and difficult trading conditions for the high street – speciality stores saw great value in focusing on their unique vegan offerings at a time when so many people are experimenting with plant-based foods.” This experimentation is only likely to continue as more innovative products break into the fine food scene, and going into Veganuary 2022, retailers that complement their high-quality meat ranges with strong plant-based options will see the best of both worlds.

Image: Croots Farm Shop’s vegan Cumberland sausage

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