Like all fads, Veganuary spread really quickly, and received a great deal of fanfare, with Greggs making much noise in the UK with its vegan sausage roll and hundreds brands jumping on the bandwagon.
While the trend for veganism looks like a flash in the pan, the same can’t be said about flexitarianism. I realised something was changing in June 2016 when Herta, a Nestlé brand you probably know for its hot dog and sausages, launched a range of meat-free alternatives in France, under the name Le Bon Végétal.
A meat company making meat-free products, in a market that’s notoriously unaccommodating to veggies? From the moment there is NPD and CAPEX investment involved, change suddenly becomes revealing and longer lasting. This has produced some structural changes across retailer shelves, from which there is no going back.
I’ve confirmed this impression by keeping an eye on distribution. Recently, the meat-free alternative aisle in a French city centre supermarket’s chilled cabinet was occupying two meters of shelf. Suddenly, present were not only the usual suspect health food brands like Bjorg, Sojasun or Céréal, but in total eight brands, including the retailer’s owned brand.
Where Veganuary is an unmoderated cut off from meat consumption, the moderate approach of long term flexitarianism is far more likely to produce systemic long term change. Cooking home-made food with high quality animal products from scratch remains a much more relevant choice to many than eating fried vegan fake chicken.
But Veganuary will have an indelible impact on baseline consumption in the long term, just like the 60% of Dry January participants who say that six months later they do drink less than the year before. It’s like Movember: it’s not because someone has grown a moustache as a challenge once that they will keep it forever, but it has been one of the manifestations of a now established trend in male grooming. Many participants realised they could actually grow facial hair, and as they became more familiar with the idea, some carried on and grew a beard.
In the same way, many people will realise eating vegan food is not as hard and horrible as they thought so, and the end of the Veganuary challenge will not necessarily mean back to business as usual. They’ll still eat meat, but they won’t refrain from a vegan or veggie option every now and then.
What the industry has done by investing in NPD and shelf space to accommodate this trend will give us more options than ever to implement flexitarian diets, the true new upcoming food lifestyle.