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Restaurants, food brands find a partner in Veganuary

For the past eight years, a rising tide of consumers around the world have pledged to go vegan for 31 days as part of Veganuary and a growing number of them finish the month with a commitment to stick with a plant-based lifestyle long term, a trend that's creating a bigger market for plant-based food brands. 

The Veganuary campaign launched as a  nonprofit organization in the UK in 2014 to educate consumers on the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, encourage them to try it for a month and support them on the journey. And, as the program has taken off, more food makers, restaurants and grocers have found ways to partner with the campaign to promote their plant-based brands and products.

Veganuary has grown every year since its inception, both in global reach and in the number of consumers who take the pledge to leave animal products off their plates for a month. That first year, 3,300 people signed on. In 2020, there were 400,350 participants around the globe, with the US second only to the UK in the number of signups, and thus far more than 500,000 have signed onto the pledge in 2021. Participation in the US grew so much that the organization launched a US branch last year. About 50,000 Americans took the pledge in 2020 and 80,000 have signed on thus far for 2021’s campaign. 

More than one million people have signed up officially since the start, and the nonprofit organization behind the effort says data indicate that about 10 million have actually taken the pledge without officially signing up, US Director Wendy Matthews said.

The effort has also attracted partners eager to highlight their plant-based offerings while so many consumers are paying attention.

This year marks the first time Veganuary has had official corporate sponsors, and plant-based food makers Beyond Meat, Violife and Good Catch have signed on. Additionally, about 100 restaurants and food companies have joined as partners in the US, which allows them to use Veganuary’s materials for free to promote the campaign and market their plant-based offerings. That’s up from 35 last year.

Restaurants promoting Veganuary in the US feature both 100% vegan chains including Veggie Grill, PLNT Burger and ByCHLOE and eateries that offer vegan items including Mendocino Farms and Just Salad. Retailers are also partnering -- Costco promoted Veganuary in an article in its newsletter this month, complete with recipes for a couple plant-based dishes.

And it’s not just food brands that are taking the chance to promote their vegan efforts. Plant-based beauty and hair care brand Aveda announced this month that all its products are now vegan. 

Why Veganuary?

People have different reasons for trying plant-based eating and vegan lifestyles. Last year, 38% of people who took the Veganuary pledge did so for health reasons, 37% for the animals and 18% for the environment, according to a survey by the group.

There’s some indication that health concerns have become an even larger factor amid the pandemic. US sales of plant-based meat alternatives grew 35% between April 12 and May 9, 2020, according to Nielsen. 

Social media channels have helped spread the word and entice more people to take the pledge.

“Social media is incredibly important to our strategy,” Matthews said. “We’re a completely donor funded organization living largely in the digital space, so being able to reach new people on social media and the influencers we work with are critical to the meteoric growth we've seen over the years.”

Celebrity endorsements have also raised the profile of the campaign, and this year a slew of famous folks including Alicia Silverstone, Paul McCartney and Jane Goodall have attached their names to an open letter urging people to go vegan this month for the health of the planet and to potentially stave off future pandemics. 

Signups aren’t limited to January -- consumers can take the pledge to go vegan for 31 days any time of the year -- but this time of year typically brings the biggest number of participants, Matthews said. 

Seventy-two percent of Veganuary participants who lasted the month in 2020 said they planned to stay vegan, compared to 47% the previous year, and 93% of those who didn’t plan to remain vegan said they were at least somewhat likely to try it again in the future.

Nearly half of those who said they planned to stay vegan cited the discovery of tasty plant-based options as a key driver for the decision. As consumer participation in the program has grown and year-round demand for plant-based options continues to rise, restaurants and food makers have launched and promoted new menu items and products around Veganuary.

The pandemic has also  put financial pressure on consumers, giving Veganuary another talking point. Brands, restaurants and retailers including Albertsons, Hellmann’s and Follow Your Heart are offering deals to those who sign to take the 31-day vegan challenge. And a study released last month by Kantar found that plant-based meals prepared at home can cost as much as 40% less than meat- or fish-based meals. The survey found that vegan households spend an average of 8% less on groceries than non-vegan families.

Veganuary embraced that message and created a budget-friendly meal planner.

A big part of Veganuary’s effort is focused on supporting participants to make it easier for them to make the switch, which includes a mix of practical information on diet and nutrition, as well as recipes and meal ideas to keep things interesting.

Serious issues of animal welfare and the environment can be part of the discussion as well, but there’s also the fun factor and the reminder that we don’t have to be perfect to make positive changes. 

Vegan TikTok influencer Tabitha Brown makes that point with whimsy in a video spot that both counts down the month with a variety of colorful and indulgent vegan meals and also illustrates the need to forgive ourselves and move on when we make mistakes. 

All of the resources are free for participants who sign on to take the challenge, including a celebrity e-cookbook and access to a private Facebook group where they can ask questions and share information, Matthews said. 

Brands can still partner throughout this month to promote their vegan products and add to the growing conversation about all the reasons to consider going vegan -- and staying -- vegan, she said. 

“We at veganuary feel it's important to educate people on all the reasons to go vegan because different things resonate with different people. We also need to make it fun and easy, so community is very important to make sure that people are feeling supported and like they have allies.”

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