Growing Interest in Veganuary and Vegan Products Around the World But Does This Mean that Meat Sales Suffer?

Irritating although it may be for the meat, egg and dairy industries, it’s Veganuary this month and 500,000 people worldwide have signed up to eat only plant-based foods for the month of January. Both Veguanary and the notion of adding more plant-based foods to the diet are gaining support around the globe, particularly with higher income consumers. However, it’s not clear which foods they are replacing, if any. Demand for meat remains buoyant! 

One-quarter of people signing up are in the UK where most of the major supermarkets are running Veganuary vegan specials. Veganuary was established in 2014 by Mathew Glover and Jane Land and “the movement” has gone from strength to strength. Their  focus is on Latin America this year where 150,000 have signed up. 

Serial vegan entrepreneur Glover has just launched Vegan Fried Chick*n Company VFC and aims to crank up sales volumes of his faux chicken such that it can outperform KFC on price. The product is wheat-based, i.e. seems similar to seitan, the meat substitute much used in history in Japan and China, which is essentially high protein gluten and has a chewy mouth-feel and pulls apart like chicken. So, it’s not gluten-free (it’s solid gluten!), but it is soy- and nut-free. 

VFC products are currently only available online in the UK but are scheduled to be part of the menu in as many of the 3,600 fried chicken outlets as will take them. The company is proudly activists with its mission to be “an act of positive rebellion against a system that has brought us climate change, environmental destruction, factory farming, and slaughterhouses. The way we’ll dismantle this destructive system is with great food – it’s our sit-down protest”! 

Veganuary’s founder, Glover, is not to be taken lightly – he’s established Veg Capital in 2020 as a fund specifically focused on the removal of animals  from the food chain and has taken early investments in Mighty Pea (yellow split pea m’lk) and vegan One Planet Pizza. Looking for vegan “winners”, he’ll be spoilt for choice – plant-based products mimicking beef burgers stole the show initially. Now, there’s a host of start-ups focusing on vegan chicken, egg, pork, and fermented plant-based proteins.

Big name companies are asking their employees to sign up to Veganuary – Nestlé, Mars, Quorn (no surprise!), PWC, EY and Bloomberg – the movement has traction. A quote by Nestlé’s Marco Settembri, CEO of Nestlé Zone Europe, Middle East and North Africa, reveals how this is more than a business opportunity for them, as he encourages his workers to follow: “As someone who stepped up to the Veganuary challenge this year, I am happy to be part of this movement as it grows across Europe and beyond. For me, now, behind Veganuary there’s a bigger picture – and one which induces long-term action. It’s about really feeling the need of the consumer. That is why, this year, I am promoting Veganuary across many of our categories and initiatives. After all, a well-planned plant-based diet can meet nutritional needs during all stages of life and there are the environmental benefits, too. This year, I am passing the baton and encouraging all Nestlé employees to participate in Veganuary and sign-up to the challenge. We will inspire them with delicious recipes from our Garden Gourmet range, vegan options in the staff restaurant, tips from experts, and dietary advice.”

What’s driving consumer interest in plant-based products? There’s 5 things:

  • For some, particularly younger consumers and more women than men, they don’t like the idea of killing animals to eat – that could be 20% of the market by 2030;
  • For some, particularly older consumers, it’s about their own health – plants are perceived to be intrinsically healthier than most meat (fish is the exception);
  • The fastest growing group includes those who are concerned about the environment, climate-change, etc. and like the notion of climate-friendly diets;
  • Some are drawn to the products because they’re attractively packaged;
  • And, then, for some and for some products, they’re very tasty!

Should meat businesses be worried about the frenzy of plant-based NPD and the media fascination about “going vegan”? No and for two reasons: plant-based meat is a market opportunity for “real meat” companies –  many of them have jumped on the bandwagon developing their own faux meat products and brands, and/or taken a share in a startup plant-based firm;  in Western higher income economies, aggregate meat consumption per capita remains relatively stable – there’s no clear downward trend. Beef consumption is slipping in Europe, but not so in the USA where meat overall continues its onwards march – over 100kg per capita and that’s without fish and seafood! Chicken consumption continues to edge up in most countries. It suggests to us that the biggest influence over movements in meat consumption is relative price not increasing availability of plant-based protein alternatives. In the USA, in particular, consumers just seem to be eating more of everything and that’s reflected in the frightening obesity statistics (and we’re hardly sylph-like in UK, Australia, etc.).

What could “real meat” businesses do better in the face of this new plant-based competition? For a start, they could improve packaging and shout out loud on-pack about the nutritional benefits of their natural products. FMCG “Big Food” does exactly that (ad nauseam) – full of fibre, excellent for your gut, zillions of probiotics, etc. Meat companies, for  some reason, are more demure (hardly in character!) and leave it up to the shopper to work out the benefits of purchasing. Of all the foods we omnivores eatl, many scientists recognise the nutrient quality and density of meat and the crucial role it has played in our evolution and shaping us as humans. 

We praise the initiative of the Great Britain Agricultural Levy Board in the UK, launching in January a campaign about meat and dairy nutritional benefits. The objective is to inform and educate consumers on how eating a balanced diet, including red meat and dairy, is a sustainable way to enjoy food. During Veganuary and to “safeguard the reputation of red meat and dairy”, AHDB is launching a £1.5m ($2m) “Eat Balanced” consumer marketing campaign including:

  • “Eat Balanced” TV advertisements;
  • “Eat Balanced” consumer website;
  • Proactive and paid for social media activity;
  • Stakeholder information including a “Positive Conversations” Pack;
  • And monitoring “anti-meat/dairy” advertising/promotional materials to ensure any pronouncements are truthful, have a respectable science base, and do not contravene the UK’s Advertising Standards Association standards.

(video link to an advertisement of the campaign)

Agencies representing the interests of the meat industry (particularly livestock farmers) are changing their approaches in the face of a veritable tsunami of media coverage and interest in plant-based meat to become less defensive and angry to become more engaging on the attributes of their products rather than on the iniquities of “fake” meat! Quality Meat Scotland is a case in point. The QMS strategy is: “Veganuary and Brexit are upon us. Our strategy is not to defend our industry but to promote its benefits, be bold and proud of what we do. The QMS campaign focuses on – Local, The Scotch difference, and health and wellbeing with particular attention to the benefits of Vitamin B12”.

Meat and dairy producers should defend their patch against skewed, untruthful propaganda (and there’s lots of that about!). But, the meat industry really needs to focus on “the moment of truth`’ when, in particular, younger consumers face a wall of slabs of raw meat with scary names linked to points of anatomical origin on the carcase (e.g. half lamb shoulder) in unattractive plastic packs on supermarket shelves and they’ve no idea how to convert the scary raw product into meals!. Whereas the fast-expanding array of plant-based products look cool, are strikingly named and packaged and focus on providing meal solutions not meal problems. 

Don’t forget that eating is more than refuelling, often, it’s a social event.  Sometimes, one person in a household can have a disproportional (arguably, tyrannical) influence on what the family eats, particularly during these Covid times when all the family are at home from morning to night!  At the moment in the UK, 1 out of 5 households has a vegetarian/vegan at home. we’d bet that in 5 years time, 1 out of 4 will. The meal preparer has to have a veggie option for the vegetarian/vegan one amongst them. If the family can’t spot the difference between the plant-based mince and regular beef mince in a lasagne, and if the plant-based is the same price or cheaper, and if it’s human and environmental  health halo is shiny, why wouldn’t you opt for tasty “fake” mince!

Organisations representing the interests of livestock farmers – and, in particular, beef and lamb – are moving on from visceral primal screaming at the anti-meat lobby to more constructive approaches presenting the benefits of their products to human health, rural development, and even climate-related advantages such as carbon sequestration on grassland pastures and use of crop byproducts. That’s good! Meat and dairy products are essential in a balanced diet,  and they must be positioned when promoted to contemporary consumers in a manner that is consonant with their values, lifestyles and aspirations.


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Posted in Consumer, Meat, Vegetarian
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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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