Is Veganuary actually achieving anything?

For Veganuary, Business Leader has looked at the impact the trend has had on the food industry, and the wider impact of the movement on our society and economy.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the global vegan industry is worth more than £29.4bn, and has over 2,000 companies across the world that are directly feeding into the sector.

And according to Statista, there are currently between 600,000 and 1.5 million vegans in the UK, with more than 500,000 signing up for Veganuary – more than double the total of 2019.

But, are they actually making a positive change?

Deciding to become vegan is often not about health benefits, but rather environmental or ethical reasons. This is done by cutting out meat, dairy and animal products from their diet and lifestyle.

However, the alternatives are not always as positive as you are led to believe.

There is no doubt that there are both pros and cons to the lifestyle, but vegan-friendly food often contains alternatives that are grown using excessive amounts of water, or are flown across the world for the benefit of jumping on a trend without full comprehension of its impact.

The meat industry is obviously a bigger contributor to greenhouse gases – and a balance is needed to create a sustainable food industry that caters to all lifestyle choices.

What do industry leaders think?

Business Leader asked some experts about what they think the impact of Veganuary will be, and whether veganism will actually achieve real change for the environment, ethical farming, and the food sector as a whole.

The impact of a vegan lifestyle on the environment

Clare McMahon, Senior Sustainability Manager at Bupa UK shares her thoughts on Veganuary.

This year, Veganuary has been supported by more than half a million people in the UK. The movement aims to educate others about veganism by encouraging a vegan lifestyle for the month of January.

Adopting elements of a vegan lifestyle into your everyday life can have positive benefits for your health and the environment. According to The British Dietetic Association, a well-planned and balanced vegan diet can support healthy living in people of all ages.

Research has revealed plant-based diets can support your physical health, by helping to reduce your risk of certain health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Similarly, vegan and vegetarian diets including locally sourced and seasonal foods support sustainable living as they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage, compared to those diets rich in animal products.

You don’t need to be a full-time vegan to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet. For example, having one meat free day a week (e.g meat free Mondays), can help reduce your carbon footprint, protect biodiversity and boost your health and wellbeing.

The importance of Veganuary

Ann Perkins, Co-Founder of vegan snack brand Perkier shares her thoughts.

By the time Christmas is over many of us want a fresh start to the year, so Veganuary is perfectly timed as an easy way to move to a plant-based diet – healthier for you and kinder to the planet.

With a widening selection of meal solutions, in supermarkets and food-to-go (remember the first Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll?!) and snacks including Perkier bars for those essential morning and afternoon energy boosts, it’s not surprising a whopping 75% of consumers who start Veganuary stay vegan for the entire month!

But what happens when the month ends? 49% have improved energy, 46% improved mood and 38% improved body weight which is why 75% continue to reduce their animal-based diet by over 50% through the rest of the year.

Pasta Evangelists deliver make-at-home restaurant kits nationwide as well as run an acclaimed restaurant at Harrods in London. They provided the comment below.

We don’t pretend to be a vegan brand. Our best-selling dishes include a slow-cooked beef shin ragù and a ‘Carbonara of Dreams’! For us, Veganuary is the perfect moment to encourage meat-eaters to try something new, especially as it comes at a time when many people are testing out different lifestyles.

What matters most to our customers is feel-good deliciousness, so our aim with Veganuary is to prove that plant-based pasta innovations can be every bit as tasty. Our new vegan carbonara, for example, is made with the traditional recipe in mind for a rich, creamy texture and deep savoury flavour. Like our classic recipes, it is essential that our vegan alternatives exceed expectations and do not compromise on indulgence, or the mission becomes redundant.

Although Italian food remains one of the most popular cuisines in the UK, tastes are evolving as more and more customers are looking for vegan alternatives. We embrace this context as a guide for creative experimentation, rather than a restriction. It is an opportunity to take an offbeat look at ingredients and methods, to reimagine traditions to create more inclusive recipes which bring people of all generations together. We never want anyone to feel alienated from enjoying pasta.

‘Why we are proud to support Veganuary’

Giles Humphries, Co-Founder of Mindful Chef shares with Business Leader, the reason why they are supporting Veganuary.

The Veganuary campaign has played a huge role in making veganism more mainstream, encouraging some of the largest organisations in the food industry to offer plant-based products as part of their portfolio.

At Mindful Chef, we’ve always offered vegan meals and were the first recipe box in the UK to do so – we truly believe that healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring and offer 22 vegan options across our product range each week that don’t compromise on taste or quality.

In the first two weeks of Veganuary 2021, we sold over 180,000 vegan recipes, compared to 36,000 in 2020 – a 400% increase YOY that outperforms the usual uplift in orders during January and suggests increased interest in the Veganuary movement.

We feel that, historically, health may have been the primary motivator for participating in Veganuary, whereas an increase in awareness around how food affects the planet may mean more reasons for people to now get involved. Mindful Chef believes that food can be good for both people and the planet, which is why we are proud to support Veganuary.

For us, it isn’t burgers vs broccoli but rather encouraging people to enjoy plant-based meals as part of a balanced diet as this aligns closely with our sustainability and health goals for both people and planet.

UK sees a steady increase in uptake of vegan and vegetarian meals

Marking Veganuary 2022, Sodexo has released food sales data showing the month-on-month increase in purchases of both vegan and vegetarian meals across its UK foodservice outlets at corporate client sites.

  • In the twelve months to November 2021, the sale of vegan and vegetarian meal options formed on average 10% of all Sodexo’s food sales at corporate client sites
  • Vegetarian and vegan meal sales, as a proportion of all meals sold, almost doubled between November 2020 and November 2021 going from 7% to 13%
  • In November 2021, 41% of all non-meat or non-fish meals purchased were vegan, up from 24% the same month the previous year
  • The figures were collated from 145 catering outlets across Sodexo’s corporate clients using their EPOS data

Sodexo food sales data revealed today shows that, by the end of 2021, vegan and vegetarian meal options were forming 13% of all meal sales at offices and other corporate client sites where it provides catering. This marks a significant increase on the start of the year when these meals represented just 8% of all those sold.

During November 2021, the most recent complete month of data, 41% of all the non-meat or non-fish meals sold were vegan. This was the highest proportion of vegan meals selected since Sodexo began tracking this data in September 2020.

Claire Atkins-Morris, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Sodexo said: “As part of our Net Zero commitment, we understand that plant-based meals have a lower carbon impact. We have set ourselves the goal of increasing the number of plant-based meals and recipes we supply to 33% by 2025.

“The incremental increase in sales of vegan and vegetarian meals we are already seeing across our sites is hugely encouraging and reflective of a change in consumer awareness and increased choice. We are a proud supporter of Veganuary and want to highlight our support through raising awareness of the positive impact of plant-based meals and support consumers to choose sustainable dishes that are tasty and exciting.”

Toni Vernelli, Head of Communication & Marketing at Veganuary said: “Whether driven by concerns for the planet, health improvements or animal welfare, one thing is certain – veganism is a trend that keeps on trending, and we’re thrilled to see Sodexo reporting such significant growth in sales on vegan and vegetarian meals. Veganuary is here to help everyone who wants to try vegan, but our job is made so much easier when companies like Sodexo are providing such delicious, accessible options in their corporate client sites.”

Bite taken out of vegan firms’ share price ahead of Veganuary

With Veganuary upon us and industry leaders are highlighting the importance of choosing the lifestyle. However, Susannah Streeter, Senior Investment and Markets Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown reveals that the sector’s top firms are facing uncertain times. Shares in Beyond Meat, Oatly, Tattooed Chef and Else Nutrition shares down sharply in 2021, mostly caused by supply chain issues. However, global plant-based meat market is still predicted to grow by 18.9% a year and the market value is expected to reach more than £13bn by 2026. Streeter also notes that vegan players outside the food and drink sector include Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Microsoft and Visa.

Many more people look set to be persuaded to make a meat free pledge next month, with the Veganuary movement attracting millions of followers and hundreds of brands. After weeks of festive overindulgence and the opportunities to eat out in favourite restaurants with family and friends dwindling, January may seem an opportune time to try vegan dishes at home. But although there is likely to be a temporary surge in sales of meat and dairy free ranges, it won’t necessarily be the immediate saving grace for vegan food firms which have seen valuations plummet over recent months.

Although the global plant-based meat market is still predicted to grow by 18.9% a year, reaching to reach more than £13 billion in four years’ time, 2021 hasn’t been a smooth ride for some of the headline acts on the vegan billboard and investors may need a lot of patience to see a significant return on their investment.

Larger more diversified food producers, muscling in on the vegan space have been more resilient, offering greater strength through diversity of product ranges, and with more advanced supply networks and pricing power.

Beyond Meat has seen its share price fall by 48% over the past year as investors lost appetite for the company following disappointing roll out of its alternative chicken tender ranges. Shareholders appear to have become impatient with the company’s tendency to over promise but under deliver in terms of sales. They had been hoping for a rapid bounce back after the closure of restaurants during the pandemic which upset the company’s fast-growing revenues in its food services division. But the distribution to restaurants and grocers of new ranges has been slow.

There were high hopes that 2021 Nasdaq newcomer, Oatly, would tap into the high demand for dairy alternatives, and with a quarter of a century’s experience in delivering milk free goods, it appeared to have significant first mover advantage. But the froth has been wiped off the $13.3 billion valuation with shares sliding by 62%. It’s been beset with supply chain issues, with driver shortages causing severe distribution problems in Europe. Pandemic closures have also hit hard with hospitality closures in Asia hurting sales and factory production issues in the US also acting as a drag on performance.

Tattooed Chef launched onto the stock market in November 2020 in a reverse merger with a SPAC Forum merger 11, with the aim of capitalising on the growing demand for plant based frozen dishes in the United States. Although it secured distribution through Walmart, Target and Costco stores, it’s been plagued by supply chain issues and rising prices for raw materials which have seriously squeezed margins. That’s clearly worried investors with shares down by almost a third over the year. But it still expanding the outlets it sells in and new acquisitions like New Foods of Mexico should help it extend its product ranges, so its gaining scale but it comes at a cost, so while it’s on a quest for high growth, losses are likely to continue. Shares are down 30% over the last year.

Israeli firm Else Nutrition has also had a hugely disappointing 2021 with the share price down by 70% year to date. The company has developed a line of toddler formula milks and shakes for children which are organic, vegan and made from ingredients such as buckwheat and tapioca. Its revenue growth is powering ahead but investors seem to be worried about the rate of cash burn to fund its growth.

Unilever which is investing in expanding its vegan ranges, hasn’t been immune to cost inflation despite its hefty size but it offers more strength given the diversity of its product lines.  It’s partnership with microalgae start up Algenuity will be one to watch, as the opportunity Algenuity’s Chlorella presents as a sustainable, nutritious and health-promoting plant-based protein alternative gains ground. Food giant Unilever already offers a dairy-free version of its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream range – made from almond milk as well as a vegan Cornetto and Magnum. It is giving Beyond Meat a run for its money with its own vegan burger range. Unilever plans a five-fold increase of vegan products over the next seven years, targeting £900m in sales annually.

Nestle has entered the plant-based food market, directly targeting shoppers with its Nescafe gold alternative lattes offering almond, oat and coconut options. For its wholesale market it’s now providing a vegan cheese to its restaurant customers to complement its existing range of Garden Gourmet plant-based burgers and sausages. It’s expanded its range after acquiring California based Sweet Earth Foods in 2017 and now a tuna alternative dish is one of its latest weapons in the drive to gain market share in the vegan space. Nestlé’s share price has risen 22% over the past year.

Britvic in the FTSE 250 is also hoping to milk the growing market having snapped up Plenish, a fast-growing vegan drink brand. Plenish was founded by a New York entrepreneur Kara Rosen who was dissatisfied with the range of non-dairy products in the UK and came up with soya, hazelnut, coconut and cashew nut alternatives. Britvic’s shares have risen 10% over the past year.

Coca-Cola aimed to capitalise on the bubble of interest surrounding non-dairy drinks through its acquisition in 2017 of the AdeZ brand of plant-based smoothies. It was rolled out in Europe in 2018, and the brand should get a dose of extra fizz given it’s been chosen by Coca-Cola as the drink used to trial its new paper bottle later this year, to try and add to its eco-credentials. It also expanded its range last year in the alternative dairy market by launching Simply Almond Milk branded products. Coca Cola’s share price is up 9% over the past year.

Hotel Chocolat in the FTSE Aim index has slipped comfortably into offering non-dairy alternatives as part of its expansive confectionary range. It offers vegan chocolate selections made with nutmilk and also vegan mixes for use with its Velvetiser home creative kit.  Its share price has risen 8% over the past year.

For investors looking further afield for a vegan play and don’t wish to invest any money in companies which could involve animals in some way, there are other sectors to choose from, including transportation and technology stocks. However, investors will have to do their homework, as there is a risk that animals may have been involved in R&D in some element of the process, for example in the past even the space sector has used animals for testing, prior to human missions.

Microsoft is one technology company which is held by the Vegan Climate ETF* as none of its activities are perceived to exploit animals. It has also made strides in reducing emissions and aims to be carbon negative by 2030 to limit harm to the planet overall.

Even though Apple is not usually associated with animal welfare, it’s also considered to be vegan friendly and is held by the Vegan climate ETF. It has purchased 4 gigawatts of renewable energy and is partnering with Conservation International to invest in forests and ecosystems with the aim of removing 1 million metric tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.

The semiconductor maker Intel is another stock to consider for its environmental credentials as it has a goal to rely on renewable energy for all its global electricity use.

Payment firms Mastercard and Visa are also among the Vegan Climate ETF’s top ten holdings, as they are also considered to be climate friendly. Mastercard sources renewable energy for 100% of its global operations and is involved in cross-sector initiatives such as the Greener Payments Partnership. Visa has transitioned to 100% renewable energy for its offices and data centres and is included in the Dow Jones Sustainability North American Index.

Veganuary and the importance of the movement

Melissa Snover, a registered nutritionist, and Founder and CEO of 3D-printed personalised vitamin brand, Nourished, says: “Veganuary offers a great opportunity for people to discover more about nutrition. Devoting a month to eating only plant-based foods and avoiding all animal foods and products can inspire a more colourful plate of fruits, vegetables, grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products. These foods can be beneficial for improving mental and physical wellbeing, such as lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, by eating leafy greens, or having more energy and better gut health by eating a more diverse diet that includes foods like avocados, nuts, and berries.

“However, it is critical to be prepared for a significant change in your diet, as well as the risk of vitamin deficiencies from excluding meat products, which are high in certain vitamins. Meat can be a good source of protein, iron, and B vitamins, but Veganuary can be a great way to learn about other foods that provide similar nutritional benefits. Other popular protein sources include quinoa, beans, pulses, or tofu, nuts, and hemp seeds, which are excellent sources of protein and other nutrients such as fibre, iron, potassium, and folate and can be added to a variety of meals.

“A well-planned vegan diet can provide most of the nutrients required on a daily basis. Alternatively, vitamin supplements can be a quick and easy way to keep track of your daily nutrition. Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins that vegans are most likely to be deficient in because it is only found naturally in animal products. A lack of vitamin B12 can cause anaemia and extreme fatigue, so it’s critical to supplement with vitamin B12 when following a vegan diet.

“Overall, the Veganuary movement can encourage us to learn more about nutrition, but it’s critical to remember to adapt and tailor our nutritional intake to accommodate dietary changes within our own lifestyles.”