Should retailers forget Veganuary this year?

Personal health and wellbeing has never been so important thanks to the ongoing Covid pandemic. And with the whole of the UK in the middle of varying lockdowns, there could be a boom for Veganuary this year - or maybe not. Retail Gazette finds out how retailers can target health conscious consumers amid all the uncertainty.

A new year is now upon us, bringing the return of Venganuary. But while non-essential retailers remain closed amid the latest nationwide lockdown measures can retailers still have a viable Veganuary this year?
"Veganuary or not I don't believe this is a fad, it's a long term trend that's here to stay." - Martin Holden-White

A new year is now upon us – and this means one thing: the return of Veganuary.

Yet as non-essential retailers endure the latest lockdown measures across the UK, can retailers – especially those classed as essential, such as grocers – still have a viable Veganuary this year?

According to Martin Holden-White, the founder of plant-based recipe kit food subscription box business Grubby, the Covid pandemic has lead to an increase in those looking to veganism this year.

Veganuary, the official website that runs the annual campaign, recently reported that over 500,000 people have signed up for the challenge to eat only plant-based food for a month this year. This is more than double the number of people who made the same pledge in 2019.

“The stats are showing more and more people are turning flexitarian,” Holden-White told Retail Gazette.

“Retailers should ensure their vegan products are showcased online as well as in-store”

“The demand is there and it’s only growing amongst young people, so Veganuary or not I don’t believe this is a fad, it’s a long term trend that’s here to stay.

“The awareness of the impacts of eating more plants in your diet has grown significantly so many of those participating will be doing it for health reasons.

“With the the pandemic I believe this will be much higher than usual as people are conscious of staying as fit and healthy as possible.”

Simon Day, the head of marketing at Winterbotham Darby – the manufacturer behind several plant-based brands including Squeaky Bean and Vadasz – said retailers should capitalise on the growing popularity of Veganuary this year, especially as attention for personal wellbeing and health has intensified since the pandemic began 10 months ago.

“To maximise the opportunity Veganuary brings, retailers should ensure their vegan products are showcased online as well as in-store, capturing spend from those who would prefer stay away from the shops,” Day explained.

“Retailers need to ensure a cohesive marketing strategy that not only appeals to meat reducers, vegans and vegetarians, but also appeals to those looking to make lifestyle changes.”

Viva, a vegan charity and animal rights group, recently published a poll that revealed nine in 10 Brits would like to see an immediate end to factory farming this year. The poll also revealed that some 31 per cent of Brits are set to slash their meat consumption or go vegan in 2021. This is primarily due to concerns over intensive farming methods and disease outbreak, with three in four new or emerging infectious diseases coming from animals.

“Now, more than ever, people are trying veganism – because of the pandemic,” a Viva spokesperson said.

“Naturally, retailers are rushing to meet this demand for vegan products and so we would urge them to continue.”

A record 500,000+ people have signed up for Veganuary this year.

This year, supermarkets and online grocers have already increased their plant-based offerings, with Asda rolling out its first vegan butcher counter that specialises in plant-based meat alternatives. Indeed, the 2020 Eating Better survey reported that the number of plant-based ready meals on the market has risen from three per cent up to 16 per cent in the past two years.

Now, as consumer’s demand for meat alternatives continues to grow due to the links with personal health amid the pandemic, how can retailers use this to their advantage?

“Not majoring on the health implications too much and instead leaning towards ‘plant-based’ phrasing rather than vegan that doesn’t alienate the masses,” Holden-White said.

“Studies show ‘plant-based’ phrasing has more mass appeal as opposed to ‘vegan’.”

January has always been the month to make the most of healthy eating thanks to the tradition of new year commitments and health goals. But with the added layer of the Covid-19 outbreak, health has been at the forefront of people’s minds for months.

Day said retailers needed to ensure that nutritional messaging is stronger than ever.

“Studies show ‘plant-based’ phrasing has more mass appeal as opposed to ‘vegan’.”

“Point of sale provides a great opportunity for retailers to promote the health benefits of a product – or healthy serving suggestions,” he said.

“As people seek healthy inspiration and ways to spend their free time, retailers should focus on the tried and tested method of showcasing healthy and simple Veganuary recipes via in-store recipe cards and magazines, on their social media channels and via digital channels.”

While the Brexit transition may have impacted the importing of fresh produce, plant-based and vegan alternatives are still widely available.

“A wholefoods plant-based diet relies on pulses, beans, lentils, fresh fruit and vegetables and your standard pasta, rice and bread, ” the Viva spokesperson said.

“All of these are widely accessible in supermarkets and smaller local shops. Many of these products, such as peas and oats, can be grown in the UK, and so have additional benefits in post-Brexit Britain.”

Day added that with every major food retailer increasing its plant-based ranges this month, “there are no shortage of vegan alternatives”.

“New product development has been booming for some time, with a quarter of new concepts launched in the UK in 2019 bearing vegan credentials,” he said.

“Consumers are therefore unlikely to struggle to get free-from products – although with their popularity on the increase, it’s possible that star Veganuary products may sell fast.”

Day also said that Winterbotham Darby has worked hard with its supply chain to ensure both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic did not impinge on its ability to meet demand from supermarket customers.

“We’ve seen our retail partners pull out all the stops, increasing their delivery capacity for online shoppers, and introducing initiatives such as Sainsbury’s Chop Chop app, through which food can be delivered straight to the front door within an hour of an order being placed,” he said.

“Decades ago, being vegan meant making a special trip to the health food store for speciality products that didn’t always satisfy and that could be difficult to cook.

“Now we have a plethora of tasty products that are both convenient to purchase and cook, so there’s never been a better time to try plant-based.”

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