Emma Clifford
Emma is Associate Director, Food & Drink. She provides insight on the UK F&D market with a special focus on healthy eating and is regularly featured in the national media.

Veganism is certainly getting a lot of attention recently, from a new plant-based cookery show on the BBC called Dirty Vegan, to vegan sausage rolls at Greggs. While Veganuary, the commitment to abstain from animal products for the month of January, is proving significantly more popular than when it was launched 5 years ago.

So what’s all the fuss about veganism? We spoke to the chief executive of Veganuary, Simon Winch, to find out why the campaign has proved so popular, if veganism can go mainstream and what brands can do tap into its rising popularity.

The Veganuary Team

When Veganuary started in 2014, you had 3,300 people signing-up while last year this number had risen to nearly 170,000. What do you think are the 3 main factors driving this steep increase in popularity?

This year 1 week in, we have had over 220,000 sign up and counting! People now are much more aware of where their food comes from, and its impact on their bodies and the planet.

There are many more vegan role models, now, too – from Lewis Hamilton to Ariana Grande – showing that veganism is easy, it’s accessible, and it’s the future.

But perhaps the most important and exciting development has been the massive increase in availability of vegan food in supermarkets and restaurants. It’s never been easier to be vegan and it’s a genuinely exciting space for product innovation.

Which parts of society is Veganuary proving particularly popular with and what do you think is the appeal for these groups?

This year we’ve seen a big surge in people doing Veganuary for health reasons. With famous vegans like Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, and so many vegan sports and fitness influencers on Instagram, a lot of people see a plant-based diet as a great way to improve their energy levels, get more from their body, lose weight or just feel great.

Veganism is more than a diet, though – and we see thousands of people trying vegan for health and fitness reasons, but staying vegan because they learn about the positive impact their new diet is having on the environment, or because they discover delicious new foods.

While veganism is most popular with people under 40, we’re seeing more older people sign up too, often prompted by younger family members! Veganism is a really inclusive movement and we see people of all backgrounds signing up – whatever your food budget, whatever your likes and dislikes, and whatever your food intolerances, it’s possible to eat a really healthy, delicious, balanced vegan diet.

And of course, many people take part just because they want to explore some delicious new flavours and find some amazing new brands!

You’ve also launched Veganuary internationally. Which countries is the campaign proving popular in?

We’ve launched Veganuary campaigns in 13 additional countries this year. It’s the first time we’ve worked with like-minded overseas non-profits and charities in a more considered way, to help attract a bigger international audience to the campaign. Our partner groups are not just delivering a Veganuary campaign in their own country, but also in their own language and in a culturally sensitive way. The campaign model is no different to our own – a 31 day email series, containing delicious recipes, meal plans and helpful tips, such as where to get your nutrients and how to stock your cupboards.

We’re working in Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Peru, India, Iceland, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden, Russia, Brazil and Japan. So far the campaign has brought in over 10,000 pledges to try vegan, but that figure will rise further before the end of the campaign. The campaign is going particularly well in Sweden, Australia and South America.

While veganism is getting a lot of media attention, relatively few people are currently vegan. Do you think veganism can ever become mainstream, and if so what do you think will help it achieve this?

We believe vegan is entering the mainstream now. While there are fewer people following vegan diets, there are encouraging signs that more people are considering switching to a fully vegan diet, or a diet which include days where they only eat vegan.

No longer a counter-culture, ‘vegan’ is a word we’re hearing resonating out of people’s conversations on the streets, just as frequently as we’re seeing it talked about in the nations’ broadsheets. It’s not hype. There’s substance to its rise and that gives it credibility. Any movement or venture has to reach critical mass to carry on and succeed. We think veganism has reached that point and a chain reaction has started. It’s also been helped by the technology that sits in our pockets. All of us can view footage of an undercover animal rights film or watch an environmental documentary on Netflix with immediate effect if we so choose.

What is one thing that people might not know about veganism that you would like to shed more light on?

Vegan food can taste absolutely amazing. If you’re anything like us, you probably cook the same five or ten dishes on rotation. Trying vegan gives a great opportunity to shake it up a bit, get out of a culinary rut, pick up one of the many excellent vegan cookbooks, and try some new flavours. Whether or not you stay vegan, you’ll have discovered some great new ingredients and recipes you can incorporate in your meal plans through the rest of the year.

But if you’d like to stick to the home comforts, it’s also possible to veganise pretty much everything with a few easy substitutions. Fancy lasagne? Use soya mince, vegan cheese and a flour, olive oil and soya milk roux. Want to bake a cake? Use an egg replacement product. And if you don’t really feel like cooking, you can always pick up vegan sausage rolls at Greggs, vegan mac and cheese at Waitrose, Ben & Jerry’s or Swedish Glace vegan ice cream at most supermarkets, vegan doughnuts at the Co-op… Consumers are embracing vegan foods, and the retailers with the most diverse, tasty offerings are getting the vegan market share. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. At its simplest, veganism is about eating much more of some of the cheapest ingredients – fruit, veg and pulses – and cutting out the most expensive, meat.

Gregg’s vegan sausage roll

What we think

The buzz around vegan food and drink is rapidly gathering momentum. Historically the term vegan has arguably had somewhat of an image problem, but now consumers’ perceptions of these products have been transformed. There has been a powerful combination of factors driving consumers to towards these products. Healthy lifestyles, concerns over the environment and animal ethics are the fundamental pillars underpinning the vegan movement, with heightened consumer awareness around these issues.

However, to gain its – now indisputably – mainstream presence in supermarkets, vegan products have had to go beyond virtuous positioning. Taste, variety and colour have been at the heart of innovation in this area, these also key themes for vegan food emerging from foodservice and gaining visibility in the media. This has been fundamental in tackling an ingrained image of blandness, injecting much-needed excitement into this category and aligning plant-based food with the ‘foodie’ culture of today.

Retail is fully embracing this trend and vegan food and drink is a hotbed of launch activity, making it more attractive than ever for consumers to venture into this market. With such a diverse mix of benefits and motivations underpinning the rise of plant-based food and drink, supported by high-profile campaigns and influencers, there seems little doubt that the vegan revolution has longevity.