A review of Veganuary 2021.

29 January 2021

January… a time to turn over a new leaf and improve your lifestyle traits. For years it was a key marketing month for the sports and fitness industry, focusing on positive ‘new year, new you’ messaging. Now though, another movement has come to define the month, building momentum year-on-year…it’s of course Veganuary.

It’s hard to believe that Veganuary only began in 2014, such is the sheer volume of press, social engagements and ‘virtual’ water cooler debate that greet us as we move into the new calendar year. A record 500,000 have signed up to the cause in 2021[1], 125,000 of those in the UK. And there is great hope for the future, with the ING predicting meat and dairy alternatives to be worth €7.5bn in Europe by 2025, up from €4.4bn in 2019.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, sales of plant-based food also increased 50% year-on-year in the first week of January[2], with nearly 31% more shoppers buying foods from the ‘meat and dairy alternatives’ category for the first time. No surprise given the emphasis from retailers and suppliers; Tesco pledged to hike sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025, whilst Unilever wants global plant-based sales to hit €1bn a year within the next five to seven years.

It’s not just contained to 31 days though, with 94% of people participating in Veganuary saying they also intend to cut back on eating meat and dairy in the months ahead. Although it is worth noting that while it is a booming sector, the plant-based market is still tiny compared to the meat and dairy industry.

Interestingly, a recent Mintel study showed that while 41% of UK consumers in 2020 said they were either not eating meat or actively reducing their meat consumption, this is down 10% on the 2019 results, with the surge in comfort eating and traditional meals because of Covid impacting on people’s choices.

The reasons for choosing a vegan diet vary between individuals, but there is no doubt that it’s a movement that’s not set to disappear. As Toni Vernelli, head of communications at Veganuary puts it: “Driven by concerns for animal welfare, the planet or health improvements, one thing is certain - veganism is a trend that keeps on trending.” The healthiness of vegan products is an interesting element to consider though – many vegan products have a halo assumption of health, when in fact the processed-nature of many plant-based goods could be the opposite.

The on-trade and hospitality sector has unfortunately been largely unable to cater for Veganuary this year, but there has still been plenty of NPD and campaign activity within retail, with products vying for shoppers’ attentions in an increasingly competitive category. With brands looking to introduce shoppers to the free-from aisle, there has been a plethora of new meat-alternatives, with Mintel suggesting that brand’s messaging should not be “too vegan”, instead focusing on “taste, flavour, occasions and price.”

So, who has been making a splash? Oatly received a notable backlash for its new ‘Help Dad’ TV advert this month, with calls for it to be investigated for ageism. The farming and dairy community also expressed anger at the adverts, refuting the claims that livestock farming is more damaging to the planet than transport.

Quorn had a more positive start to the new year with a major marketing push as part of its ‘Helping the Planet One Bite at a Time’ campaign. The new TV advert encourages shoppers to lower their carbon footprint by reducing their meat intake, whilst Quorn also continued its partnership with Liverpool FC.

It’s not just the big brands leading the way though, this month saw a big push on own-label products from supermarkets. Aldi unveiled more than 20 new free-from products, whilst Asda expanded its existing range with vegan bacon, meat-free sausage rolls and ‘chicken’ nuggets, as well introducing its first ever vegan butcher counter in its Watford store. The alternative meat innovation continued as Co-op added new products to its Gro range, whilst M&S’s popular Plant Kitchen tapped into shoppers’ sweet tooth with vegan strawberry cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies.

For years, vegan options at fast food joints have been limited but this year Burger King added a new vegan bean burger and Papa John’s added three new items to its range, included a vegan-cheese-stuffed crust and not-chicken vegan bites.

We have plenty of experience supporting free-from brands with their communications, whether that’s creating our very own pop-up vegan café in the heart of Soho to generating stand-out coverage for vegan sandwiches.

For more information hello@mercieca.co.uk

[1] Veganuary, 2021
[2] Dunnhumby Beyond data

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