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Updated: 2nd January 2020

The Vegan Movement: How Can Your Company Benefit?

For many, the start of the year marks a chance for fresh beginnings, New Year’s resolutions, and the motivation to try something new. One such New Year’s challenge growing in popularity is Veganuary.

Veganuary sees individuals pledge to give up animal-based products for the duration of January. This involves participants abstaining from meat and seafood, as well as dairy, eggs, and anything else derived from animals. Over 170,000 people signed up for the challenge in 2019, and even more are expected to join in this year.

Moving into the mainstream

However, for many, consuming a vegan-only diet will continue long after January ends. There are now an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK, a number which has grown fourfold from just 150,000 in 2006. From what was once a niche lifestyle choice, veganism, or at least plant-based eating, is now moving into the mainstream.

Individual motivations behind adopting a plant-based diet vary, with animal welfare, environmental impact, and health concerns all frequently touted as reasons individuals sought to change their eating habits.

While some have decided to make the switch to veganism full-time, for others, there is a desire to simply cut down on the consumption of animal based products and venture into eating plant-based for certain meals or perhaps for one or two days a week. Colloquially termed ‘reducetarian’ or ‘flexitarian’ diets, the appeal of meat-free meals now goes beyond those who define themselves as vegans and vegetarians.

Ethics, health, lifestyle

Recent documentaries such as The Game Changers, which extols the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, are pushing more and more people towards experimenting with food which was once solely the domain of vegans. Growing awareness and diagnosis of food intolerances and allergies has also fuelled the surge in ‘free from’ products.

Almost half of respondents from a recent survey reported avoidance of certain food products in their household due to either dietary or lifestyle reasons. With many individuals now abstaining from dairy due to food intolerances, the appeal of dairy-free products has been extended way beyond just those following a vegan diet.

A growing market

This has fuelled the growth in demand for plant-based food in restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and supermarkets. This rapidly growing market has seen an influx of new products with many companies – established food producers, start-ups, and supermarkets themselves –introducing their own contribution to the plant-based movement.  The market is now said to be worth £572m, and is expected to top £658m by 2021.

The plant-based movement represents a real potential growth area not just for food producers but also for restaurants, cafes and takeaways. Online delivery service Deliveroo has revealed that orders for vegan food have quadrupled over the past two years making it the fastest-growing takeaway option in the UK. The market is here and ready for companies to seize upon – a move which many have already made.

"There are now an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK, a number which has grown fourfold from just 150,000 in 2006."

Leading the way

Greggs caused a stir last January when it introduced a vegan sausage roll to its permanent range of baked goods. The product proved so popular that stores were struggling to keep up with demand, and the launch has now led to Greggs committing to recreate their entire range, from pasties to cakes, made to vegan-friendly recipes. A vegan glazed doughnut and a ‘steak’ bake made with quorn pieces are set to hit the shelves to coincide with Veganuary.

McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC have also introduced vegan items to their menus, while Pret a Manger have opened a series of Veggie Pret stores following a successful trial period.

Bol executed a complete brand overhaul with the announcement that its range of soups, salads, and ready meals would be going fully plant-based. Meat and fish were ditched first, with all remaining products going dairy-free shortly after.

Out went best-sellers such as Keralan Chicken Curry and Jamaican Jerk, and in came Cauliflower Tikka Masala, Jackfruit Ramen, and a Shepherd’less Pie made with lentils. This bold, and undeniably risky, move seems to have paid dividends, with the brand continuing to be stocked at major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as securing a deal with Costa Coffee and having the honour of being the first vegan grocery brand to join forces with delivery service Deliveroo.

Veganism goes beyond food

It is not just vegan food which represents an opportunity. Vegan fashion is also hotly tipped as a growth sector as consumers become more aware of the environmental and ethic impact of so-called ‘fast fashion’. Ethically sourced and produced fashion using cruelty-free and /or recycled materials is already being marketed with a ‘vegan’ label in high-street retailer New Look, with the prediction that many more will follow this year.

Could your business benefit from ‘going vegan’?

For many businesses, tapping into the vegan market could be an extremely lucrative move; for others, ensuring they are catering for those following a plant-based diet will be a necessary part in their future strategy. Failing to provide options for those abstaining from meat and other animal-derived products could see you losing customers to other businesses who have already embraced the growing shift towards plant-based eating.

Overhauling your entire menu isn’t necessary, nor do you need to completely transform your brand or ethos. Simply offering just a couple of plant-based options for diners could see you capturing new customers who may not have previously considered your brand, as well as retaining existing customers who decide they would like to incorporate more plant-based items into their diet. For restaurants, capturing those all-important group bookings will be aided greatly by the inclusion of some vegan-friendly options

Consumers now want and expect vegan options whether dining out or purchasing food to eat at home. Customers who cannot find suitable options in one place will simply go elsewhere. The market for plant-based products is huge, and is only set to grow.

As demand and competition for the plant-based pound heats up, there has never been a better time for businesses to take stock and consider tweaking their offerings to capture a slice of this lucrative market.

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