Veganuary anticipates 350,000 sign-ups as plant-based bandwagon begins New Year on high

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Getty/YelenaYemchuk
Pic: Getty/YelenaYemchuk

Related tags: Veganuary, vegan, plant based

Food companies have timed their meat-free product launches just in time for Veganuary, which sees consumers promise to quit animal products for a month.

More than 300,000 people worldwide are taking part in ‘Veganuary’ and promising to consume no animal products for a month. The Veganuary charity, based in the UK, expects to achieve its goal of reaching 350,000 official sign-ups globally. However, it hopes the impact will be much greater than the number of people who officially sign-up online.

For example, according to Kantar research commissioned by the charity, 1.3 million people in Britain gave up animal products in January 2019 -- 10 times more than the numbers that officially signed-up to Veganuary in 2019 from the UK.

Last year 250,000 people signed up globally, of which around 15% were already vegan. Those who gave up animal products for the first time but did not stay vegan after January consumed a reduced volume of animal products until at least July 2019.

Toni Vernelli, Veganuary’s Head of Communications, said: “We knew that the ‘Veganuary Effect’ was real and many more people tried vegan in January than officially signed-up with us, but seeing the long-term impact that a one-month vegan pledge has on consumption habits - and ultimately animals’ lives - is very exciting.”

She added: “Veganuary’s aim is to get people to try vegan for one month and see how they feel. Our own surveys show about 50% choose to stay vegan as it was much easier and enjoyable than they expected, but we always hoped the other half discovered some products and recipes they loved so much they permanently swapped these for the non-vegan equivalent. Now we know that’s exactly what’s happening, and it’s great news for animals and the planet.”

Meat sales fell last year

The Veganuary event is an example of the shift towards flexitarianism among consumers, who are keen to reduce their meat consumption for health and environmental reasons.

Sales of red meat fell more by value than any other category in UK supermarkets last year, down by £185 million, according to research by Nielsen. Beef sales fell by 4% and pork by 6.4%, it said, while sales of meat-free alternatives rose by 18% to £405 million, the highest growth rate of any category.

Food companies are keen to capitalise on this trend. Pizza Hut’s chief executive Jens Hofma and Stuart Machin, managing director of food at Marks & Spencer, have said they are participating, individually at least, in Veganuary. Big companies such as the accountancy firms PwC and EY are also encouraging their staff to take part.

Innovations in the plant-based space

Many food companies have also timed meat-free product launches just in time for Veganuary. UK supermarket Co-op has launched what it calls its “biggest rollout of vegan products” with new brand Gro. Gro consists of 35-meat free products and will be sold in 2,000 Co-op branches in the UK and also via up to 4,000 independent retailers. The Gro launch extends Co-op's total vegan range to around 1,000 products and comes on the back of a 12% rise in sales of vegetarian products and 14% increase in sales of non-dairy milk products over the past year. Co-op added that the UK vegan market topped £1 billion for the first time last year and has doubled in the past 20 years.

Plant-based brand Oumph is also launching its vegan ribs into select Tesco stores, in the UK and Ireland this week. Another plant-based brand, Squeaky Bean, has also launched two ready-to-eat chicken-style lines in Sainsbury’s in the UK. The two new vegan lines – BBQ and Tikka Chicken-Style Pieces – mimic some of the biggest selling marinated chicken flavours, using pea and wheat proteins to achieve the same texture. They also tap into the sustainability trend by coming in recyclable card trays with a separable film, meaning there is 80% less plastic used versus equivalent plastic trays. Co-creator Sarah Augustine said: “Every shopper we spoke to said it was when eating lunch or on-the-move that they found it hardest to find a plant-based option they genuinely craved.”

Lastly, Greggs – which brought out its infamous vegan sausage roll last year – has also unveiled today (2 January) a vegan steak bake made up of 96 layers of light and crisp puff pastry, filled with Quorn pieces, diced onions, and a gravy filling.

Health questions

However, as the plant-based trend gets more mainstream attention, expect its health credentials to come under increased scrutiny.

“We know that most people taking part in Veganuary are doing it for animals welfare reasons. If they’re doing it for health reasons, common sense would dictate that they should regard these items as treats​,” said Veganuary's Vernelli.

Also expect questions about B12 deficiency. On the eve of Veganuary, two renowned professors warned that people eating a vegan diet need make sure they get enough B12, which is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, but not in fruits, vegetables or grains.

Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, said: “What concerns me is that many new people becoming vegan are unaware of the need to combine sources of plant proteins. And they're not aware of the need to ensure they have adequate levels of B12.”​ He added that people won't become B12 deficient by doing Veganuary because it takes three or four years to manifest.

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