- U.K.-based charity Veganuary, which promotes a pledge to eat meat-free for 31 days in January, anticipates 500,000 people worldwide will participate this year. This is up from the more than 400,000 who participated in 2020, and 250,000 in 2019, The Guardian reported. The United States had the second-highest number of Veganuary participants in 2020, after the U.K.
- Since its founding in 2014, Veganuary has gained momentum by attracting more participants and expanding its reach within the plant-based category. The Guardian reported Marco Settembri, Nestlé’s CEO for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, encouraged company employees to go meatless for the month. And Matthew Glover, Veganuary's co-founder, is launching vegan fried chick*n (VFC) with the hopes of selling the product in the U.S. by the end of the year, according to Food Ingredients First.
- Despite the expectation of a larger number of participants and a growing interest in plant-based foods since the pandemic began, more than 60% of adults do not plan to follow a primarily plant-based diet in 2021, according to data from the British Nutritional Foundation (BNF) and reported on by Food Navigator.
Plant-powered foods continue to command a large amount of interest from consumers. Since 2014, Veganuary said it has supported more than 1 million people across 192 countries that have tried a vegan diet in January. The nonprofit said 1,200 new vegan products were launched for Veganuary 2020.
But the increased interest in the segment isn't just from this month-long campaign. The coronavirus pandemic has also spurred interest in plant-based eating. According to data from Nielsen, plant-based meat had one of the highest sales growth rates in the first nine months of 2020, with dollar sales up 129%.
While stockpiling had something to do with the increased sales, the segment had seen steady growth over the past few years. Plant-based products are now shaping some of the biggest company portfolios in the food industry. This includes Big Food stalwarts, including Nestlé's Sweet Earth line, Conagra's Gardein, JBS USA's Planterra and Tyson Foods' Raised & Rooted. It makes sense that established companies are getting on board with this movement. Sales of plant-based protein and meat alternatives are projected to increase to a whopping $85 billion in 2030, according to investment firm UBS. Today, the category hovers around $1 billion in sales.
Many consumers consider plant-based products as healthier alternatives: A 2018 study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found 52% of people who eat more plant-based food said it makes them feel healthier. Plant-based meat has also gained a reputation as being a cleaner and more accessible choice for consumers and companies amid the pandemic. Processing slowdowns, concerns about protecting employees and potential meat shortages stemming from plant closures and importation difficulties convinced just over half of consumers that the food industry should focus on meat-free options, according to a poll from Rethink Priorities in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States.
Although plant-based products have posted impressive growth over the last year, most U.S. consumers are still interested in animal-based protein. According to a May study from Datassential, nearly seven in 10 Americans classified themselves as meat eaters, and that number has not altered dramatically. Only 2% of consumers in the U.S. identify as vegans, and 7% as vegetarians. And while plant-based meat sales have posted impressive growth, the category pales in comparison to the meat industry’s $95 billion in annual retail sales.
Veganuary is not the first promotional campaign to encourage consumers to shift how they eat and drink. Grassroots efforts like Dry January and Sober October have challenged people to cut back on alcohol consumption. The campaigns have also encouraged the alcoholic beverage industry to rethink their segment. Several major players have added alcohol-free beverages for consumers, including the 66% of millennials who are making efforts to reduce their alcohol consumption but want to continue to imbibe.
But even without a month to draw attention to vegan eating, the meat industry is well on its way to having its image redefined by plant-based and other alternative products.