The plant-based revolution has captured people’s attention across the globe, with vegan options becoming more commonplace and expanding every day, appealing to consumer’s tastes and conscience alike. With Veganuary being a phenomenon taking centre stage this 2024 and encouraging a shift toward plant-based meals, many food retailers are meeting the challenge of offering a variety of vegan options and carving a path towards a more inclusive, greener future. However, with high prices and plant-based sales reported to be declining, many consumers appear to be choosing saving over sustainability. In this blog, we will look at the offerings from food retailers appearing on the market this Veganuary and seek to understand the logic behind doubling down on vegan choices with a downturn on sales reported and how this may be salvaged.
With claims the global vegan market may be worth as much as £50bn by 2030 and Veganuary once again being promoted within grocery stores across the nation, the question arises of how prevalent this movement is and how inclusivity and sustainability can be a successful offering in the grocery market. Meat Free sales were reported to be one of the worst performing categories of 2023 with sales declining by £34.8m. January 2023’s findings showed that despite the levels of publicity for Veganuary, sales for plant-based options fell across the board. More than 1 million fewer households bought meat-free products in Jan 2023 compared to 2022 and 280,000 fewer households bought dairy-free. Farmers Weekly reported that a survey of shoppers conducted on 1st January 2023 found 7% of shoppers were committed to trying Veganuary with almost 70% of the same shoppers returning to their normal diets by mid-month. Affordability is likely to be a factor in the drop of uptake and sales, with 40% of those asked stating that vegan food was too expensive. NIQ Managing Director UK & Ireland, Rachel White said of the consumer change in shopping habits, “The cost-of-living crisis continues to impact UK consumers and our data shows that this has had an effect on how they shop for groceries and what they choose to put in their baskets. There has been a real emphasis, despite inflation, on stripping it back to traditional items, such as fresh meat and dairy products and a move away from trying more expensive meal solutions, which have shifted the dial in terms of the meat-free category.”
Another possibility in the decline of uptake in vegan options is that the customer simply hasn’t enough choice to satisfy their personal tastes. A further 40% of those abandoning their Veganuary goals in 2023 stated they were struggling to find plant-based options they enjoyed. With grocers once again introducing new and exciting options for Veganuary, there is a chance that this could be remedied. The UK’s largest retailer, Tesco has applied to register a trademark for their own plant-based brand called Root & Soul. The range will offer both vegetarian and vegan options with milk and meat alternatives along with fruit and vegetables tying in with the grocer’s Finest Signature Vegetable Range in introduced in 2023. This new brand is part of the company’s plant forward initiative with Tesco’s Director of Food Product Development & Innovation, saying, “We see the next stage of our strategy as ‘plant forward’ and our latest range has been developed as we’ve seen a growing demand for veggie options featuring wholefoods, vegetable and dairy products as the central part of the dish rather than meat mimics. People are discovering just how delicious this way of eating can be when you bring together unique textures and tempting flavours and we want to help our customers on this journey.” This year is a big one for Veganuary, with brands such as PAYST introducing completely vegan, authentic Thai sauces, Applewood Vegan launching a snacking "cheeze" in stick format - Applewood Vegan Minis – and popular vegan range available in Ocado and Tesco, Happiee, now expanding its reach to Asda. Happiee offer a range of vegan seafood alternatives, a sector relatively untapped by other vegan brands, bringing a fresh offering to the category.
It is evident that embracing the shift toward plant-based options is more than just a flash in the pan trend – with more consumers choosing a vegan diet, sustainability being a priority for many and the importance of intolerances and allergies to consider, it is a business imperative to cater for this sector of the population to sustain growth and popularity with the masses. With the hope that the more popular and prevalent these dietary options become, brands will be able to source ingredients and labour more easily and the more cost-effective the manufacture and purchase of these offerings will be. More than a New Year’s “Challenge”, the embrace of Veganuary and plant-based offerings emphasises a long-term vision of inclusivity and a sustainable future, despite short-term challenges of sales decline, and reminds us that innovation is not just about following trends but about shaping them.