Vegan Week: The Year of the Vegan

2019 is already being dubbed “the Year of the Vegan.” With over a quarter of a million people already signed up to Veganuary by 31st December 2018, the unprecedented growth of veganism that we’ve seen over the last five years shows no sign of slowing.

What was once seen as a niche lifestyle has hit the mainstream in a big way. In 2018, the Great British Bake Off featured their first Vegan Week, and January has already seen some of the biggest UK brands, from Tesco to Greggs, launch vegan ranges and products to their sizeable audiences.

But is the rise of the plant-based lifestyle something small businesses should be concerning themselves with? Firstly, I’d like to stress that it’s vital for your business that you never to dismiss popular market trends as “bandwagons.” Brands that refuse to adapt to changing consumer behaviours are setting themselves up to fail. Nobody wants to be Blockbusters.

Secondly, the growth of the vegan market is intrinsically linked to a growing awareness of ethical consumption. Customers are asking questions about single-use plastics, fast fashion, sustainability. In short, the market is getting woke.

Market research company, Populus, conducted research on behalf of IGD, which found that one in two (52%) British shoppers either follow or are interested in a plant-based diet, rising to two in three (68%) for 18-24 year olds.

This Millennial audience is particularly engaged with ethical consumerism, with half indicating that they were motivated by either ethical or environmental concerns. So while less than 2% of shoppers identify as strictly vegan, it seems a significant number are opting for that “Flexitarian” lifestyle, and the brands that adapt quickest to meet this demand are the ones that are going to cash in.

Social media is undoubtedly contributing to the rise in the plant-based lifestyle. In fact, some believe that visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest have been the primary driving force behind this growth, with high profile influencers such as Deliciously Ella myth-busting the notion that vegan food is limited to (in her words) “rabbit food.”

Those interested in a plant-based diet have unlimited recipes at their disposal (there are over 2.5 million #veganrecipes on Instagram), and are under no illusion that they will miss out on their favourite foods. Searches for vegan cakes and bakes are some of the biggest areas of growth, and the popularity of “vegan dessert” pins on Pinterest has gone up 329%.

And if you think that the demand for vegan products only affects food-related brands, think again. Big businesses from Gucci to Bentley are investing in alternatives to leather and other materials. The demand for natural and cruelty-free beauty products is now a multi-million-pound industry, with consumers wishing to avoid ingredients such as carmine and shellac.

With all my clients, I wang on about the importance of being a disrupter in your industry. It’s not enough anymore to keep an eye on your competitors, you need to be the change that your customers want to see. If you don’t, someone else will.

And now is the time to ask yourself this question: if your customers have a choice between your business and another offering a plant-based alternative, where are they going to spend their money?