As we move into the new year, Veganuary is pencilled into the calendars of many. After record numbers of sign-ups in January 2021 (just over half a million), January 2022 is looking more promising for the industry. The veggie and meat-free food space is expected to be valued at over £1 billion by 2024. It’s growing and evolving at an astonishing rate, meaning the brands who previously ignored the hype are now playing catch-up.

At VERJ, our recent research revealed in-depth insight into the online commentary by analysing millions of social media conversations about sustainable eating. We created a research report that explored the consumer psychology underpinning the shifts towards alternative and sustainable eating.

To help inform this, we spoke with FMCG leaders, such as Deliveroo, COOK and Better Nature, giving us a deeper insight into how companies can build relationships with their customers in this rapidly growing market now and moving into the new year.

How can brands taste test veganism and plant-based culture?

The research discovered that people want and expect total transparency and honesty from food brands regarding their products, including health benefits and sustainability. Veganism has become mainstream with more customers willing to experiment with food choices, including products labelled plant-based or vegan. Most interestingly, these products appeal to people who don’t necessarily class their diets as ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’. And they’re intrigued by new products on offer too. Brands must understand these consumer behaviours and acknowledge that this is not just a phase, it is a growing mindset.

For instance, Deliveroo has altered its SEO to tap into vegan and plant-based communities. Deliveroo’s website and app has seen year-on-year growth with dishes designed for vegan audiences. To help its partners understand consumer habits and how the food space has changed, Deliveroo shares relevant insights regarding popular vegan and plant-based dishes. This allows them to share direction on how to correctly tag these products and dishes, helping consumers find relevant options easily.

As people continue to switch to a vegan or a more flexitarian diet, brands need to pay attention and ensure they are providing a wide variety of options for their customers as they make this change in their lifestyle.

The future of vegan and plant-based eating

We identified that the vegan industry has grown 40% since 2014. To tap into this market, again, brands need to really pay attention to their customers. Brands such as Tesco are already doing this well. Tesco has shifted to recyclable packaging for vegan products – aligning with commonly-held values of veganism. This also appeals to wider audiences who are cautious of sustainability and how they can contribute.

Increased time at home over the last 18 months has bumped snacks up the food chain. Our research found that the term ‘snacks’ was 2.2 x more likely to be mentioned in the last six months in vegan/plant-based social commentary. This suggests that brands need to identify areas where ‘greener’ customers have been typically denied their guilty pleasures – like the recent rise in vegan steaks featuring on many restaurant menus.

When it comes to the differences between vegan and plant-based audiences, the former tends to have a bolder, more militant spirit while plant-based consumers tend to have a much softer psychological perspective, focusing more on the product and its nutritional elements. Brands should bear this in mind when it comes to their marketing – knowing the profile of their audience will ensure that they don’t alienate anyone. Despite these differences, snacks and fast foods are uniting forces set to change the future green-eating landscape as a whole and should be a crucial part of any brand’s NPD.

The brands we spoke to emphasised that this space is changing at a rapid rate. Listening to consumers will be the key to survival in the constantly evolving space. Brands such as Deliveroo and Cook regularly gather data to understand what their customers want. With this information, brands can be better prepared for what is around the corner.

How to appeal to hungry customers

The appetite for a green food mindset has taken the food industry by storm. Brands need to sink their teeth into this space to keep current customers as well as gain new ones. Expanding their product offerings is key to business growth.

Ultimately, the research findings indicate that there are two routes for brands to take when navigating this space. The first is the appeal of the wider benefits such as snacks that taste like the real thing or perhaps reduced calories. This can empower customers with a small easy decision to move into this sector, as opposed to jumping straight into the psychological deep end of the vegan persona. The second, for current vegans, brands may want to double down on the vegan identity. Pushing counter-culture themes with big, bold campaigns/packaging will leverage the power of the brands’ social identity.

Interested in learning more about VERJ's research on the topic, you can download the full: There's always more than 'Meats the Eye' report here. OR register for our upcoming brunch and learn for an interactive session on the subject!


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