Veganuary & grocers — the perfect match?

It's impossible to go through January without hearing about Veganuary. the campaign which encourages people to go vegan in hopes of changing meat-eating habits. Retail Gazette finds out how the annual movement affects grocers.

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Veganuary

Most consumers associate Veganuary as the annual movement which takes place throughout the first month the year, encouraging people to embrace a vegan diet.

However, the movement was in fact spawned after a charity of the same name was founded in 2014. On its website, it defined veganism as “one of the most effective choices a person can make to reduce the suffering of animals, help the planet and improve personal health”.

In recent years, the demand and rise of vegan products has had an immense affect on grocery retailers as they battle to win customer loyalty. So what and how is the Veganuary movement actually benefiting them?

One could argue that the rise of veganism and popularity of Veganuary benefits grocers’ fruit and veg section as it encourages customers to buy more to cook their own recipes at home.

Last year, Big 4 giant Tesco launched its own vegan range called the “Wicked Kitchen”. It proved a success when it sold four million meals in just 33 weeks, as well as winning PETA’s 2018 Vegan Food Award for Best Vegan Range.

Veganism is likely to continue throughout 2019 as the Veganuary charity predicts at least 300,000 people will embrace the diet this month.

“Retailers also benefit from Veganuary as it enhances their social and environmental credentials.”

Kantar Worldpanel revealed last year that demand for meat-free products such as the Quorn range was increasing rapidly, with shoppers spending an additional £30 million overall on these year-on-year.

Meanwhile, demand for dairy-free products went up by 10 per cent year-on-year, and dairy-free cheese skyrocketed by 80 per cent over the same period, placing its value at £17.8 million.

These numbers are likely to increase further as new vegan products hit supermarket shelves this month. For example, Marks & Spencer launched its new “Plant Kitchen” vegan-friendly range as it looks to meet demand from customers taking a “flexitarian” approach to eating.

James Butcher, the managing director of Solutions for Retail Brands, said retailers up the ante on hype and marketing around vegan products in January as a way to drive footfall amid the post-Christmas slump.

“Retailers more than ever need to create news and excitement about differentiated own brand products,” he told Retail Gazette.

“It is what sets them apart from each other and is also the main defence against the march of internet sales. And therefore, Veganuary provides an opportunity to demonstrate this differentiation.

“For example, Waitrose’s launch of fishless fingers – or more specifically ‘fish-free’ fish fingers. Clearly a lot of work went into the development and in the preparation to hit the stores and the press as early in the New Year as possible. It generates news and excitement about the brand, and demonstrates innovation.”

He added: “Done well, it can really drive consumption. For some it will be for January, and like many other new year resolutions, will wane.

“For others, it will open their eyes to different products and if the costs are not prohibitive will really change behaviour. Not necessarily to become vegans, but to reduce meat consumption.”

And in an increasingly digital-first society, grocers’ sales could benefit from Veganuary as it garners lots of media attention, cementing itself as a mainstream calendar event.

Lisa Gawthorne, the managing director of vegan distributor Bravura Foods told the Retail Gazette that Veganuary “is given a huge amount of media attention crossing TV, radio, press and social – all of which help drive change and allow consumers to question their personal consumption”.

“Veganuary is already on track for a record breaking month which goes to show that it really is assisting in change in the market place,” she said.

“More people than ever have started to change their meat consumption.”

Worldwide Food Associates managing director Eric Woods said grocery retailers’ success can often depend on how they embrace and stay ahead of food trends to meet consumer demand.

“Veganuary, therefore, has become the perfect time for retailers to launch new vegan products,” he told Retail Gazette.

“Retailers also benefit from Veganuary as it enhances their social and environmental credentials, as it is well documented that a plant-based diet can have a positive effect on the environment.”

Woods also believes UK retailers are now more familiar with Veganuary since the movement begun in 2014.

“All UK retailers have recognised this trend and buyers are actively supporting the introduction of new product ranges,” he said.

“When you look at the media the big supermarkets are all vying for attention as part of the Veganuary conversation and those who are making most noise, and, have the product range to back it up will benefit most.”

He added: “Adoption of plant-based diets is only going to grow, so Veganuary needs to be a key part of retailer’s marketing strategies.

“In the same way that Christmas is part of the retail plan months in advance, supermarkets should be treating Veganuary in the same way, ensuring they are fully braced and fully stocked to meet growing demand.”

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