Vegan brands: serious new marketing trend or gimmicky cash cow?

Once considered an alternative lifestyle choice, veganism has catapulted to the top tier of trends – and its growing popularity has not escaped the notice of brands.

In response to this cultural shift towards more sustainable living, the market is evolving to meet demands for these products across a wide range of industries. And the brands aligning themselves with this narrative appear to be reaping the rewards.

Forgoing the meat market in favor of the stock market, meat alternative brand Beyond Meat recently saw its value skyrocket 600%, while Google offered to buy similar outfit Impossible Foods. And with hoards of celebrities and influencers coming out in support of the vegan lifestyle, this trend doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon.

High street favorites Lush and The Body Shop are seeing record number of sales and social media following while remaining loyal to their cruelty-free credentials and sustainability drives. Both brands offer recycling points to shoppers who return empty packaging to be reused. Additionally, earlier this year Lush removed egg from all its products making them completely vegan.

Here's how other brands have touted their vegan credentials.

Ben & Jerrys: Dairy-free flavors

For vegans with a sweet tooth this was pretty big news; ice cream mega brand Ben & Jerry’s decided to launch a range of vegan ice creams earlier this year. The release saw a huge buzz across social media and the Unilever-owned brand benefitted from positive reviews from dairy and non-dairy consumers alike.

Greggs: Vegan sausage roll

When British bakers Greggs released its first ever vegan sausage roll at the beginning of 2019, it is shameful to admit that it was a decision that divided the nation more than the current political climate.

And of course, we could count on Piers Morgan and the anti-“snowflake” brigade to be up in arms over the issue. After Greggs proudly announced its latest launch, Morgan was quick to take offense over the issue and attack the company by saying that no-one wanted a vegan sausage roll. Greggs’ simple quip back was enough to send Twitter into a meltdown and encouraged other brands like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s to join in.

Cynics have drawn attention to the fact that both Greggs and Morgan have previously used the same PR agency and have implied that the Twitter feud was in fact orchestrated. This claim has been dismissed by agency Taylor Herring.

McDonald’s: Vegetarian Happy Meal

The same day that Greggs announced its vegan sausage roll, burger joint McDonald’s revealed plans to serve ‘vegetarian’ Happy Meals going forwards. This is to deal with the increasing demand from children and parents who are choosing to avoid meat in their diets.

While the Happy Meals are all technically vegan due to the lack of meat and dairy products in the food, they are still marketed as vegetarian because the tortilla wraps are toasted in the same ovens as the rest of McDonald’s burger buns which contain milk. This move from the fast-food giant is indicative of the rising tide of people choosing to lead meat-free lives, particularly among young people and families.

Other fast-food restaurants such as Pizza Hut, KFC and Burger King are currently working on or planning to diversify their offerings for vegans and veggies.

M&S: Plant Kitchen

High-street supermarket M&S launched its own full range of healthy vegan and plant-based food earlier this year.

Due to a rise in demand from consumers looking for easy meat-free options, the food hall launched its range which comprises of vegan-friendly ready meals and dessert options.

This is not M&S’s first backing of social justice causes; earlier this year the brand launched an LGBT sandwich to show its support for Pride. From the profits, M&S is donating £10,000 to the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt), the national LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness charity organization, and €1000 to BeLonG To Youth Services, which works for LGBTI+ young people in Ireland. However, some of the public have accused the brand of “woke-washing”.

M&S is not the only British supermarket to have launched its own plant-based range of products: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Iceland have enjoyed success with their own ranges.

TGI Friday's: "Bleeding” Burger

Maybe not the choice for the squeamish among us, TGI’s went a step further in its effort to create a convincing vegan burger. The family-friendly restaurant has launched its own vegan burger that it boasts “bleeds like the real thing”.

The mushroom burger is entirely vegan, with beetroot juice added to create the bloody effect. The burger was initially available only in the US but due to unprecedented demand, it was brought to a number of UK restaurants in January earlier this year, just in time for Veganuary.

L’Oreal: Ultimate Blends & Seed Phytonutrients

It’s not only food brands that have cottoned onto the profitability of the vegan market. Beauty behemoth L’Oreal has decided to take a stab at making its own vegan-friendly products.

L’Oreal’s label Garnier has launched its Ultimate Blends haircare range which boasts to be made using only vegan formulas. However, the brand came under fire after it was revealed that its products are still sold in mainland China, where all cosmetics are subject to animal testing. Perhaps influenced by the purchase of all-natural German cosmetics company Logocos in 2018, L’Oreal launched its Seed Phytonutrients range. The range boosts L’Oreal’s credentials with its vegan formulas, fully compostable packaging and sulfate-free cosmetics.