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Last updated: 03.03.20

Thoughts from our expert: what were the effects of Veganuary and Dry January?

Helen Lyons, our food retail expert, looks into the impacts of Veganuary and Dry January 2020.

Our food retail expert, Helen Lyons is a familiar face to those involved in food and drink retail. Helen also has a strong background in publishing, having been publishing director at Independent Retail News and has recently launched The Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards 2020. Here she sums up the effects of Veganuary and Dry January 2020.

January saw a flurry of product activity from all the major retailers and brands. Following a quick glance at some of the main highlights from Veganuary and Dry January, I am hugely impressed by the incredible innovation and dedication from UK supermarkets and food and drink producers, which ensure that they continue to excite and delight their customers with swathes of new products that tap into these ongoing trends. It’s been absolutely fascinating watching the speed at which the sector is responding to these changes in consumer behaviour.

Veganuary and the rise of meat-free alternatives

Veganuary is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to encourage people to try going vegan for January each year – and hopefully beyond.

Over 400,000 people worldwide signed up to the campaign this year, an almost 150,000 increase from 2019. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over 130,000 people took part, which was an increase on last year of almost 30,000.

Tapping into this phenomenal growth area, and with the ever-growing consumer movement towards a health-conscious and socially responsible lifestyle, supermarkets, food chains and major food brands have been very quick to respond with hundreds of plant-based products and vegan menu options being launched. In fact, such is the demand for meat-free alternatives that Mintel predicts that sales of meat-free options will soon top £1 billion.

The impact on brands

Hellman’s Mayonnaise saw an almost 400% uplift in sales of its vegan mayo in Tesco, Kettle Crisps launched a Vegan 'Sheese' and red onion sharing pack, and Northern Bloc which already has an extensive range of vegan ice-creams, also launched a raft of new variants for Veganuary. Chicago Town 'Jackfruit' Pizza made its debut in January – the ultimate in vegan convenience food!

Heck Sausages also launched two new vegan products. Heck Co-Founder, Jamie Keeble explained the brains behind the vegan drive: "2020 will see us doing to the vegan aisle what we have done in pork and chicken, where we are now dominating with over 25,000 stores across the country… Because of global meat prices, we predict that nearly all our sales will be vegan in the future."

The impact on supermarkets

For supermarket shoppers, there has never been such an exciting time to try a vegan-based diet, with a lot of major players getting on board.

M&S is seeing success with plant-based 'Plant Kitchen - No Chicken Kiev', which has sold at a rate of four per minute since it launched in early January. The Co-Op’s new vegan range 'GRO' is designed exclusively for the convenience shoppers and offers a range of 35 products, with quick solutions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Asda launched a range of Vegan Society-approved products, with many of them created from a mushroom-based alternative, a change from the more widely used soya. Sainsbury’s own-brand vegan range 'Plant Pioneer' launched 31 new products for Veganuary, reporting a 24% jump in customers searching for vegan products on its website, as well as a 65% increase in sales of plant-based products. Tesco’s 'Wicked Kitchen Range', a premium range of sweet and savoury options proudly boasts that it "proves plant-based meals don't have to be bland or boring".

For shoppers with limited budgets, discount supermarket Aldi has extended its 'Plant Menu' range in time for January, making it incredibly easy for its customers to swap to veganism. From plant-based sausage rolls to frozen ready-meals, they were all first launched as limited editions, all with innovation at their heart.

The Vegan Kind Supermarket, an online vegan supermarket launched in 2013 by Scott McCulloch, is worth keeping an eye on too. In the two years following its launch, it saw dramatic growth, reaching over 250,000 combined followers on social media. It now ships out almost 10,000 orders a month across both subscription boxes and its online supermarket.

Food chains and outlets

The major food chains certainly weren’t going to be left behind in the rush to grab a share of the Veganuary action. Greggs, after its phenomenally successful Vegan Sausage Roll, launched its £1.55 meat-free Quorn-based steak bake; enter KFC with its meat-free Chicken Burger which sold a staggering one million burgers in the first month.  McDonalds also offered its first meat-free meal, with its meat-free dippers, approved by The Vegan Society. Amongst its growing number of vegan options, Subway reported "an incredible" response to its meatless meatball marinara: "The new plant-based sub is packed with all the flavour of the original and comes smothered in the same marinara sauce."

Deliveries of orders of meatless and vegan dishes in January exceeded all the expectations of restaurant delivery operator Deliveroo, which offered 13 'must-try' Vegan dishes throughout January.

Though there is the growing belief that veganism will become mainstream in the next ten years, I don’t entirely believe it. I do think, though, that more and more consumers will adopt a 'flexitarian' diet – choosing to eat better quality meats but less frequently – and fish and vegetarian diets will continue to form a staple part of consumers’ diets.

Dry January and the rise of low/no alcohol

It is also estimated that almost 4.2m Britons took up the 'Dry January' challenge, which aims to completely cut out drinking alcohol for the 31 days of January.

A growing community is developing as part of Dry January, with a number of events being held. One such event is mindfuldrinkingfestival.com, which took place in January as part of a Dry January programme of events from www.clubsoda.com, a community of over 50,000 people who want to change attitudes and approaches to drinking (interestingly, it’s supported by alcoholic drinks brands who are also launching alcohol-free lines.)

This supports data that Nielsen has found: over a quarter of shoppers are looking to reduce their alcohol consumption – many of these are doing this by drinking less, but others are looking for credible low/no alcohol alternatives; it’s a massive growth opportunity for retailers and food service operators.

In response to this change in attitude, the Low/No alcohol category is also undergoing seismic change, with rafts of low and no options being launched. Demand for adult soft drinks also continues to grow, UK sales of no and low alcohol beer has doubled with sales of £63m forecasted in 2020.

Industry exhibitions are showcasing some of the incredible innovation and product development that is currently taking place in this sector. I have been lucky enough to try some fabulous no-alcohol beers, ciders and spirits, all of which certainly offered a great, non-alcoholic drinking option. 

There is no doubt that there is a huge amount to learn from Dry January and Veganuary 2020 – the biggest lesson for me is that the change has only just begun and that more is yet to come: the rate of innovation which we are witnessing will certainly not slow down in the coming months and years.

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