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Veganuary: fleeting food trend or worthwhile investment?

By Aimee Earlam | Research executive

Savanta

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March 15, 2022 | 6 min read

Since its launch in 2014, the veganuary campaign has generated global buzz with a record-breaking 610,000 people officially pledging to adopt a vegan lifestyle for January 2022. But it’s not just consumers that are jumping on board; businesses have taken the opportunity to release vegan product lines and adopt a more ethical brand image. Aimee Earlam, research executive at Savanta, explores this trend and questions how effective it is for marketers to get involved with Veganuary in boosting brand image perceptions.

Using data from BrandVue, Savanta's daily brand tracking tool, we’ve taken a look at the influence the veganuary campaign has had on some of the UK’s household names.

Greggs' vegan sausage roll: a model example

Few brands know better than Greggs the benefit of harnessing consumer demand for vegan products. They boasted a 13.5% increase in total sales during 2019 following the release of their vegan sausage roll in January of that year.

Savanta on the rise of veganism and how brands can get behind adopting the new food trend.

Savanta on the rise of veganism and how brands can get behind adopting the new food trend.

It was an impressive achievement for an industry undergoing significant struggle. The vegan sausage roll provided much more than just financial security, with BrandVue data indicating that positive buzz was up 6% in 2019 (34%) from the previous year, including a 5% point increase in net promoter score. It has also established a legacy shift in consumer perceptions of the brand. But can this be replicated by other brands in 2022?

Who is involved this year?

Veganuary expanded within the food industry this year, with new products launching in supermarkets, coffee shops, fast food chains and restaurants. Those receiving the most media attention include:

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  • M&S' Plant Kitchen range, including 175 new vegan products
  • Burger King’s vegan nuggets
  • Subway’s ‘Tastes Like Chicken Tikka’ and ‘Tastes Like Steak’ vegan sandwiches
  • Domino’s vegan PepperoNAY pizza
  • Babybel’s plant-based mini cheeses
  • Starbuck’s Tu’NAH sandwich

How successful have they really been?

Starbucks has been a key player this year, opting to abandon its levy on non-dairy milks and introduce innovative vegan products. The Tu’NAH sandwich - a fishless option made in collaboration with The Vegetarian Butcher - saw the coffee shop chain rise almost five percentage points (24%) and brand love increase by 17% between December 2021 and January 2022.

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Starbucks released a fishless Tuna sandwich

Starbucks' introduction of innovative products and altered vegan pricing worked as an effective marketing tool, but has it shifted brand perceptions given its establishment as a brand among consumers? It seems perceptions for the brand mostly didn't change between December 2021 and January 2022.

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Key image searches associated with veganism, including ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘socially responsible’ actually dipped during January, indicating a lack of consumer exposure to or interest in the coffee giants’ commitment to veganism. This suggests that consumers simply viewed the commitment as a disingenuous PR stunt.

Though veganuary had a limited impact on the brand's perception among UK adults, there were marked uplifts for relevant image descriptors among Gen Z, a core target audience for vegan products. The number of Gen Z labeling Starbucks as ‘ethical’ increased nine-fold (10%) compared with December 2021 and was double that of the wider population (5%).

This trend continued with other brands involved with veganuary this year. Take Subway's success with the release of the ‘Tastes Like Chicken Tikka’ and ‘Tastes Like Steak’ sandwiches. It increased two percentage points compared with December and received uplifts from Gen Z for ‘ethical’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ brand image searches during January.

Should businesses invest in veganuary?

The vegan market holds great potential for business; involvement is an effective way for brands to tick a CSR box and generate positive buzz. Veganism will continue to rise in the coming years. Opportunities to harness brand awareness should not be ignored.

But BrandVue data suggests that brand image perceptions are not influenced as much as anticipated. Gregg's associated image change was a gradual process; perhaps Starbucks' campaign requires more time for it to effectively land and resonate with consumers before image perceptions shift.

Or maybe assessing the perceptions of Gen Z, whose opinions of brands are more fluid, is valuable for measuring the impact of a Veganuary campaign? January uplifts in key image areas associated with veganism were generally higher with Gen Z. Younger generation symbolize the future consumer pool and they are typically more interested by veganism. They're a ripe audience to engage. The Youthsight’s State of the Youth Nation Tracker reveals that 11% of Gen Z identified as vegan or vegetarian in 2021.

Veganuary campaigns may not always have an overwhelming impact on brand image, but they can work to generate buzz and shift brand perceptions, particularly among younger audiences.

Maybe brands should focus on producing more engaging marketing and advertising content to ensure effective capitalization of the veganuary trend. This could be centered around products to increase exposure and awareness, or toward the campaign's overarching message. Explicitly referencing the positive implications associated with veganism (its environmental and ethical impact) may help challenge consumer perceptions and get them to understand a brand’s reason for participating in Veganuary.

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