2021 is here and with it, Veganuary.

Our data shows that a little over 1 in 10 UK and U.S. internet users are interested in participating in this year’s challenge – and this figure could be even higher if more people knew about it. 

Around 4 in 10 UK and U.S. internet users have never heard of Veganuary.

But it’s making ripples with an even bigger audience. As of Q3 2020, around 1 in 4 global internet users say they’re interested in either vegan or vegetarian foods – a 17% increase since 2018. 

Over 500,000 people worldwide are committed to taking part in the annual challenge, smashing its previous record with around 100,000 more signups than last year.

For all the disruption brought by COVID, interest in meat-free alternatives continues to grow. CPG and QSR brands have much to gain from tapping into the trend, whether it’s to win new consumers, test new product launches, or to boost CSR commitments. 

We surveyed a sizable pool of internet users – more than have pledged to take part – to bring you the key talking points around Veganuary this year. 

Veganuary reflects participants’ concerns.

Meat-free dieting has gained ground quickly in previous years, as a flurry of meat-free products arrive on delivery apps and at major distributors, while lab-grown meat is set to take off in the West.

Though figures for UK and U.S. participation may appear small, they more than triple among those intending to eat less meat or animal products as a New Year’s resolution.

Being a month-long event, Veganuary is an appealing way for aspiring vegans to dip their toe in the lifestyle before diving in at the deep end – and for CPG and wellness brands to tap into the vegan market.

But it won’t be easy.

Veganuary awareness

The U.S. is a world leader in meat production and over half of internet users here describe themselves as meat eaters with no plans to change.

At first glance, this may deter brands from taking part, but the number of Gen Z and millennials in the U.S. who identify with this statement has fallen 7% since Q2, signaling change is within reach down the line.

At the same time, while their UK counterparts are more likely to have heard of Veganuary, just 14% here are interested in taking part. Moreover, 70% have no intention of taking the challenge – compared to 42% in the U.S who say this. 

UK internet users may be more aware of Veganuary, but that alone isn’t enough. 

Brands hoping to understand Veganuary participants need to take note of their motivations if they’re to stand out – and they should start by looking to younger audiences.

47% of Gen Zs and millennials say helping the environment is important to them, and Veganuary gives them more opportunity to do this.

Brands and charities should bear the “Greta Effect” in mind, keeping an eye out for more aspiring young activists to act as ambassadors for their cause. This is particularly important for reaching UK consumers, where participation is largely tied to environmental reasons.

Of course, it’s not just climate change and animal welfare concerns that can break through to these would-be vegans; sometimes reminding them of quality can prove just as impactful.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shedding light on malpractice in the meat industry, consumers are scrutinizing product quality more than ever before.

As such, the task of promoting this has never been easier – or as important – with UK internet users likely to respond to messaging of this kind.

Health and wellbeing are central and ongoing themes.

Convincing U.S. internet users to change their diet will likely be the biggest challenge. Promoting a vegan diet here will require messaging that addresses consumers’ concerns for their health and wellbeing. New products that advertise their nutritional benefits, as well as a lack of meat, will make an impact.

Just under half of all Veganuary participants are planning to get involved for health reasons – the leading factor in the U.S.

Health a motivator for veganuary

Healthcare experts and dieticians have been vocal about the positives in practising veganism, but commitment to any diet can prove difficult. Health-based enthusiasm is rife at this time of year – half of those making 2021 New Year’s resolutions in the U.S. and UK list eating healthier as one of their goals – but brands need to bear in mind that fatigue often sweeps in come February.

As such, they should approach these health-conscious participants with caution. Concerns about personal health will be around long after Veganuary ends. 

Moreover, the fallout from COVID-19 has led internet users to be as mindful of their mental health as their physical wellbeing. 1 in 5 Veganuary participants in the UK and U.S. say they, or someone they know, has a mental health condition and this remains the case for those using Veganuary to care for their health as well.

These individuals will look for support and brands should be on hand to provide it.

Among participants who cite health reasons as their Veganuary motivation, 18% also want to be part of a community.

This is a chance to do more than make a quick impact. By giving struggling individuals a place to be heard, brands are putting themselves in good stead with a wider community – making devoted advocates in the long-term.

Plant-based meat brand THIS is taking this initiative to a creative level, reaching out to struggling UK participants via their “comedy helpline”. 

There’s cross-generational appeal when it comes to uniting people for a common purpose. It’s worth remembering that older internet users, who are generally less interested in vegan products and Veganuary in general, can also be won over if they’re given the chance to be part of a community.  

What the vegan aesthetic entails.

We often point to COVID-19 as having changed consumer habits, but initiatives like Veganuary are powerful enough to create new behaviors and loyalties as well. There’s every chance participants will stick to their new routine, keeping a watchful eye out for brands and causes they’ve come to identify with.

Veganuary addresses various long-term issues – such as public health, climate change and animal welfare – which makes it important for brands who adapted their messaging in January to keep to those sticking points come February and beyond.

What consumers want from brands

Valuing eco-consciousness should come as little surprise at this point. Almost half of Veganuary participants in the UK and U.S. want brands to take some eco-friendly action – UK internet users in this group are 45% more likely than the average to say this.

At the same time, these individuals aren’t just thinking about the bigger picture; they’re thinking about themselves too.

Veganuary participants are 23% more likely to say brands should help them improve their image or reputation.

Remember, these are primarily young and ambitious internet users. They want brands to share their concerns and ideals – but at the same time boost their personal brand too.

With a 28% greater likelihood to say standing out in a crowd is important to them, joined by their emphasis on image and health, Veganuary and veganism in general is a trend that embodies a certain aesthetic.

For all its momentum, veganism is still relatively nascent – and that’s good for those who want to stay ahead of the trend. But this image of exclusivity will inevitably struggle as it attracts more attention, meaning vegan consumers will look for other ways to maintain their status.

Veganuary participants are 46% more likely than average to say brands should be exclusive, and a simple way for brands to accommodate this is to offer personalized products. Adventurous brands may want to take this further; rewarding consumers with exclusive wares in exchange for buying animal-friendly products or offering promotions to Vegan Card owners.

Ultimately, it’s a balancing act. Image and reputation are important connotations of Veganuary marketing – but abandoning the morals of veganism along the way could see that vegan halo quickly turn to horns.

Juicy – but meat-free – takeaways

Like it or not, veganism and flexible meat diets are becoming more commonplace. For CPG and QSR brands eyeing up Veganuary, we recommend taking a leaf out of our book and remembering the following:

  • Veganism is still a growing trend – Work needs to be done to spread awareness of Veganuary if the trend is to realize its full potential. Though what constitutes a vegan diet may prove unappetizing to some, it’s likely that internet users will respond to a cause – brands simply need to find it. Big hitters such as climate change and animal welfare are sure to reach consumers, but sometimes a reassurance of high-quality goods and preserving national supply chains can be just as convincing.
  • Community matters – Many interested participants are looking for a chance to opt into a community. They may have a particular cause in mind, want help pursuing their own goals, or be motivated by the social aspect. The latter is particularly important to older participants and can prove valuable in spreading awareness by giving brands a meaningful way of cutting through the competition.
  • Health is a big factor – Enthusiasm for health always kicks in at the start of a new year, but embarking on a new, radical diet can be difficult and even dangerous. Many will expect Veganuary to help them feel better, so it’s important for brands to support health-conscious individuals in the pursuit of their goals. 
  • Don’t be afraid to think differently – Practicing vegans, in a nutshell, are altruistic individuals with ambitions for trend-setting. They may share the same concerns as one another – but that’s where the similarities end. Acknowledging this, brands hoping to attract a vegan audience should focus on offering unique or customized products that help them – and their consumers – stand out.
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