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Restaurants, food brands find a partner in Veganuary

Veganuary turned nine this month with a record of inspiring a growing number of consumers to go vegan for the month. Last year, 582,000 people from 209 countries signed up for the 31-day pledge to leave animal products off their plates.

The Veganuary campaign launched as a nonprofit organization in the UK in 2014 to educate consumers on the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, encourage them to try it for a month and support them on the journey. 

Forty-percent of participants surveyed finished the 31-day challenge last year with a commitment to stick with a plant-based lifestyle long term, a trend that's helping fuel a bigger market for plant-based food brands, according to Veganuary’s organizers. 

This year’s signups signaled a new milestone – more than 2 million people have taken the pledge since 2014, and the group estimates that about 10 times as many people have actually participated.

And, as the program has taken off, more food makers, restaurants and grocers have found ways to partner with the campaign to promote their plant-based brands and products.

Signups are highest in the UK, with the US, India, Germany and Argentina rounding out the top five. 

Participation in the US has grown so much that the organization launched a US branch in 2019, and last year about 80,000 Americans took the pledge. 

Veganuary has assembled a star-studded list of vegan ambassadors to spread the message including Paul McCartney, Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Peter Egan and newly inaugurated New York City Mayor Eric Adams.  

The effort has also attracted partners eager to highlight their plant-based offerings while so many consumers are paying attention.

Last year marked the first time Veganuary had official corporate sponsors, and plant-based food makers Beyond Meat, Violife and Good Catch signed on. Additionally, about 100 restaurants and food companies joined as partners in the US, which allowed them to use Veganuary’s materials for free to promote the campaign and market their plant-based offerings. That’s up from 35 in 2020.

And it’s not just food brands that are taking the chance to promote their vegan efforts. Plant-based beauty and hair care brands Aveda and Pacifica are on the list of official Veganuary sponsors. 

Why Veganuary?

People have different reasons for trying plant-based eating and vegan lifestyles, and the balance shifted last year. In a survey of 2021 participants, 46% reported taking the pledge for the animals, while 22% cited health reasons and 21% cited the environment. That’s compared to 2020 when health was the top reason with 38%, followed by animals and the environment with 37% and 18%, respectively. 

There’s some indication that health concerns became a bigger factor in the early months of the pandemic. US sales of plant-based meat alternatives grew 35% between April 12 and May 9, 2020, according to Nielsen, and they have continued to rise.

Social media channels have helped spread the word and entice more people to take the pledge.

Signups aren’t limited to January -- consumers can take the pledge to go vegan for 31 days any time of the year -- but this time of year typically brings the biggest number of participants, US Director Wendy Matthews said last year. 

Forty percent of 2021 participants surveyed said they planned to stay vegan, compared to 72% the previous year, and 75% of the respondents who didn’t plan to stay vegan said they would be cutting 50% or more of the animal products out of their diets. Half of participants surveyed reported improvements in their health during their month of plant-based eating and 93% said they would be at least somewhat likely to try it again. 

As consumer participation in the program has grown and year-round demand for plant-based options continues to rise, restaurants and food makers have launched and promoted new menu items and products around Veganuary.

The pandemic has also  put financial pressure on consumers, giving Veganuary another talking point. A study released last year by Kantar found that plant-based meals prepared at home can cost as much as 40% less than meat- or fish-based meals. The survey found that vegan households spend an average of 8% less on groceries than non-vegan families.

Veganuary embraced that message and created a budget-friendly meal planner.

A big part of Veganuary’s effort is focused on supporting participants to make it easier for them to make the switch, which includes a mix of practical information on diet and nutrition, as well as recipes and meal ideas to keep things interesting.

Serious issues of animal welfare and the environment can be part of the discussion as well, but there’s also the fun factor and the reminder that we don’t have to be perfect to make positive changes. 

Vegan TikTok influencer Tabitha Brown made that point last year with whimsy in a video spot that both counts down the month with a variety of colorful and indulgent vegan meals and also illustrates the need to forgive ourselves and move on when we make mistakes. 

All of the resources are free for participants who sign on to take the challenge, including a celebrity e-cookbook and access to a private Facebook group where they can ask questions and share information, Matthews said. 

Brands can still partner throughout this month to promote their vegan products and add to the growing conversation about all the reasons to consider going vegan -- and staying -- vegan, she said in an interview last year. 

“We at veganuary feel it's important to educate people on all the reasons to go vegan because different things resonate with different people. We also need to make it fun and easy, so community is very important to make sure that people are feeling supported and like they have allies.”

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Note: This story is an updated version of a Veganuary post that originally ran on Jan. 7, 2021 in this channel.

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