Veganuary: how brands can stand out from the crowd in 2021

The rise and rise of veganism in the last five years has been astounding, with numbers increasing from 140,000 people in the UK in 2014 to 600,000 in 2019. One of the major contributors to this change has been Veganuary. Founded in 2014, the campaign has encouraged people to give plant-based a go by dropping animal products from their diet and lifestyle for the first month of the year.

Last year, 402,206 people pledged to take the challenge, and many are keeping their promise to this day. Indeed – my journey to veganism started with a Veganuary pledge, and nearly six years later, I’m still going strong! Even for those who don’t go entirely plant-based, gaining an appreciation that vegan food can be healthy, delicious and kinder to animals and the environment has inspired many to make this a frequent feature of their diets. Indeed, a whopping 90% of vegan products are consumed by those who also eat meat. Together, these changes have grown a market for vegan products worth £310 million.

Understandably, marketers want to grab a share of this spend. Not only can this lead to ‘rising star’ concepts, but developing products which show compassion to animals and the environment can also put a healthy green glow around your brand, and spark positive associations in the minds of consumers.

The marketplace for vegan goods is bustling, and hotly contended. In 2019, one in four newly launched products carried a vegan claim, and in Germany, there are already signs of saturation with high levels of new product development followed by sales figures that Mintel describes as ‘wilting’.

With this in mind, when planning Veganuary launches, marketers must spend time considering what plant-based consumers truly crave. ‘Free from’ shelf space has grown, and vegan products from brands such as Squeaky Bean, Richmond and Beyond Meat have even made it into the ‘meat aisles’. But the appetite of the vegan consumer is growing, and there’s still plenty of room for new alternatives to meat, fish, egg and dairy.

Marketers must now focus on identifying these demand gaps and filling them. For example, supermarket dessert options show great potential for development, as they follow the path of savoury foods in evolving from being virtuous options, such as yoghurts, to ‘dirty vegan’ products, such as doughnuts, puddings and dairy recipes.

It’s also worth considering that the majority of Veganuary participants are female. This is consistent with the move away from animal free eating more widely: women are more likely to drop meat from their diets, and this is perhaps because the idea that meat is masculine is entrenched in our culture and advertising. On one hand, brands may wish to tailor their product development and messaging to a female demographic. On the other, they may also see the potential of an untapped market of men who may be curious about plant-based food. High protein options may appeal on the basis that they can aid muscle development. Additionally, vegan steaks, burgers and pies fit with a manly image and go down well with a ‘blokey’ craft beer (and I’ll join the queue of women willing to dine on these too).

Finally, to excel at a Veganuary launch, brands should spend time considering their wider offer. At the heart of many consumers’ desire to go vegan is an urge to live more ethically. Careful sourcing, reduced emissions, and wider efforts to safeguard animals and the environment create an image of brands that is consistent with the benefits of the products they offer, and can avoid a social media backlash later down the line. Even Oatly received negative feedback recently when it sold a stake of its company to a private equity firm with a questionable environmental record.

Ultimately, Veganuary is a grass-roots campaign and efforts to dovetail into it should be consumer-led. There are many consumer motivations to buy plant-based products, but understanding this diverse audience isn’t tricky. Most people love to talk about food and vegans are no exception, so to get Veganuary launches right, brands should ensure that they listen to their audiences online and invite them into their own development conversations. With so many launches on the way, standing out in Veganuary 2021 will be a challenge, but it’s one that Eden Green PR and our clients couldn’t be more excited about.