Author: Chris Fiander, Marketing Manager, Westpak
Trying to pinpoint where veganism stands in the mindset of today’s consumer can be a tricky task. The movement undoubtedly gained huge traction over recent years but has this started to slow down? If so, is this down to veganism itself starting to lose some of its appeal or did its surge in popularity simply collide with a pandemic that stunted QSR growth, followed by a cost-of-living crisis causing changing consumer spending patterns? There is of course plenty of evidence to suggest that veganism in the UK is still every bit the major force for the modern consumer. Veganuary, for example, continues to have an enormous reach and supermarkets and QSR outlets continue to invest and innovate with new vegan ranges. There could be a slight paradox that the reason the trend arguably doesn’t have the same promotional impact it did a year ago is strangely due to its success – that it’s no longer a ‘trend’ and has simply become a stabilised permanent product category.
The continued success of Veganuary
Veganuary has recently highlighted that a YouGov showed 9% of Brits have taken part at least once (which equates to roughly 6 million people) and that 71% of Brits have heard of the platform. It was also found that 53% of past Veganuary participants have taken part more than once, with 21% having done it four times or more (1). Jonathan Moore, Asda’s Senior Director Food Innovation commented to Veganuary that “It’s going to be on an upward trajectory for a long, long time yet” (2).
New vegan foodservice innovations
In 2020, KFC and Burger King introduced their first vegan burgers, with McDonald’s following a year later with its ‘McPlant’ burger. It only takes a quick scroll on the websites of these fast food giants to see there’s still momentum behind these menu items. McDonald’s has now launched its ‘Double McPlant’ burger, KFC’s vegan burger remains a prominent menu item and Burger King is running vegan burger promotions during January as well as ‘Meat Free Monday’ plant-based burger promotions. Other burger restaurant chains such as Honest Burger, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Byron Burger are also all currently promoting vegan burger options. Aside from burger chains, major high street chain such as Greggs have also announced the introduction of four new vegan items for the January (3).
New vegan grocery innovations
Many major supermarket chains are once again getting behind January’s spike in vegan promotions. Major grocery retailers such as Tesco, Asda and Lidl are currently promoting not just Vegan product lines but also creating fantastic libraries of vegan recipe ideas. New product innovation also continues to feed through into the grocery market with the ‘UK’s first vegan toad in the hole’ launching in Asda stores.
What about the cost-of-living crisis?
The cost of living crisis has undoubtedly had a huge impact on people’s spending habits with consumers looking for cost-savings wherever possible. The affect this will have on vegan grocery ranges seems uncertain, with evidence seeming to point in both directions. As this excerpt from an article from The Ecologist highlights “Vegan diets have often been criticised as being more expensive than meat-based or vegetarian diets: as a luxury only available to the middle class and those living in highly industrialised countries”(4). However, one study, by the University of Oxford found that “in countries such as the UK, a whole food vegetarian or vegan diet works out considerably cheaper than a meat-based diet” (5).
Could it be that some of the confusion around the costs of vegan eating pivots on the distinction between basic vegan foods (such as vegetables, grains etc) as opposed to complex, vegan-compliant meat substitutes? Interestingly, the mentioned University of Oxford study states that it “focused on whole foods and did not include highly-processed meat replacements” (6). This ties-in closely with a recent article from the Vegan FTA that states “Vegans and plant-based people in the UK are moving to more unprocessed basic foods like pulses and grains due to the cost-of-living crisis the country is experiencing. From a possible combination of Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and political instability, the grocery price inflation in the UK is very high (14.7% as of the end of October 2022), and that, coupled with the very high rise of the cost of energy, is making many consumers change habits. This consumer shift is affecting fake meats in particular, which are more expensive, and their market growth seems to have slowed down” (7).
What about climate considerations?
One of the core message behind Veganuary and the wider vegan movement has been around the environmental benefits it brings linked to combating climate change. Research from the latest Ipsos Political Monitor shows that public concern or climate and environmental issue remains very high indeed. The research highlighted “strong levels of concern about climate change amongst the British public. Overall, 84% are concerned about climate change, with more than half (52%) ‘very concerned’”(8). Other studies have shows similar findings with research from Imperial College London showing that “while young people reported disruption and concern for their future due to both the issues of climate change and COVID-19, climate change was associated with greater distress overall”(9). Other research has also shown that the more recent energy crisis has also not distrracted the public from their climate concerns concern, “The briefing suggests that the public do not see the energy crisis as taking away from the urgency of climate change…people who are worried about the cost-of-living crisis show some of the highest levels of support for policies that can also reduce emissions and lower bills”(10).
Crucially, there has also undoubtedly been clear public messaging with regard to the link between meat reduction and environmental benefits. For example, YouGov highlights that “in 2021 the Climate Change Committee advised that people should reduce meat-eating not only for their health, but also for the planet.” It also highlights that “production of meat worldwide is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions – twice the amount of plant-based food production”(11).
The primary motivators behind the surge in popularity for vegan diets and Veganuary certainly haven’t waned. People are still extremely concerned about climate change and this doesn’t seem to have diminished against more recent concerns over the cost-of-living crisis, for example. We’re also seeing a consistency in new product ranges and menu items entering both the grocery and foodservice markets.
Does there seem to be less buzz though around this year’s Veganuary and the wider trend? That’s extremely tricky to quantify but it could be that as the excitement around something new starts to potentially diminish, rather than necessarily declining, the vegan trend could simply be settling in to a more mainstream, every-day position in the consumer mindset – something that might not grab as much media attention but is arguably more in-line with the long-term aims and objectives for those looking to continue growing the trend.
One pitfall that could potentially damage the growth of Veganuary is the possible confusion for consumers around pricing, particularly in the context of a cost-of-living crisis. As already touched upon, vegan grocery items can seem to occupy both ends of the pricing scale with basic ingredients at the lowest end and complex meat substitutes at the higher end. The benefit that higher priced meat substitutes might bring is consumer convenience – the ability for consumers to essentially create the same household meal with substituted items. If financial pressures force consumers to create vegan meals from less-expensive raw ingredients, it could potentially create a perception of inconvenience that, in turn, could push many back to more traditional shopping patterns.
Author: Chris Fiander