Love or loathe the idea of New Year’s resolutions, ‘Veganuary’ offers a lower commitment route to changing up your lifestyle. The pledge to start the year with 31 days animal product-free attracts more participants year on year. In 2022, around 629,000 people from 220 countries went plant-based in January, an increase of 129,000 from the previous year, and innovative foodservice operators released more than 1,540 new vegan products and menus. This year, Veganuary is set to break new records.
Veganuary: start your new year with a new view
With the mission to end animal farming, protect the planet and improve human health, Veganuary builds on the opportunities that come with the turn of the year. “People are more conscious about healthy and light food, especially after the intense holiday seasons,” says Stephan Leuschner, director of ghost kitchens, culinary concepts & broadcast at RATIONAL AG. “Every new year starts with a good intent.”
Through collaboration with ambassadors such as actress Joanna Lumley, businesswoman Deborah Meaden and anthropologist and environmental activist Jane Goodall, and bringing on board companies like Harrod’s, Volkswagen and Quorn to participate in its workplace challenge, Veganuary has spent the last nine years making veganism more visible and accessible.
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Advantages of practising plant-based
Going vegan for a month gives consumers the opportunity to try out its benefits for themselves. A YouGov survey found that animal welfare is the top reason for cutting out meat, with 54 % of people going plant-based for environmental reasons and 46% for personal health reasons.
At a time when the climate crisis has become critical, a Veganuary study estimates that one month of meat avoidance by one person could prevent 100kg of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. If they remain vegan long-term, their emissions could be reduced by around 1.2 tonnes per year. According to a 2018 Oxford University study, a vegan diet is the single most effective way to reduce our environmental impact.
According to health experts at NiceRx, a plant-based diet can also reduce saturated fat and cholesterol intake by 15-30 %, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. A carbohydrate and fibre-rich vegan diet focusing on components like fruit, vegetables, beans and starchy foods could also help increase energy and help reduce the chance of conditions like diabetes, cancer and obesity. A study by The Vegan Society shows that 56 % of people who had gone vegan reported better digestion, 55 % experienced better sleep and 53 % had more energy.
The benefits of being vegan continue to inspire most Veganuary participants beyond January, with 85 % of participants reducing their consumption of animal products by at least half long-term, according to Veganuary statistics. Of those who remained vegan, 48 % were inspired by great-tasting vegan food options.
“With increased offerings of vegan food, it is more tempting to find favourite dishes and tasty food,” explains Leuschner. “Now as [veganism becomes] more mainstream, we have better choice.” Increasing numbers of operators are stepping up to provide Veganuary-friendly menu items, with special vegan options available at favorites such as McDonald’s, KFC, Nando’s, Domino’s, Wagamama, Wetherspoon’s, Costa, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and Gregg’s. This year, Zizzi is offering a Meatless “Meatballs” Calzone, and Subway has teamed up with The Vegetarian Butcher to offer plant-based Teriyaki steak. For some, these changes are here to stay, with Burger King aiming to make half its menu meat-free by 2030.
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The vegan current
Not only do vegan innovations offer ambitious consumers more choice, but plant-based menus also enable operators to take advantage of burgeoning meat-free market opportunity. “Operators can gain valuable experience by creating and producing tasty vegan food on a broader scale,” says Leuschner. “It is not an exception, it could be the main road”.
The University of Surrey found that average weekly sales of plant-based foods grew 57 % during Veganuary 2021, but this trend is not isolated to one month of the year. The plant-based food industry is forecast to grow to more than USD 162 billion by 2030, up from USD 29.4 billion in 2020, with plant-based sales growing three times as fast as overall food sales, according to the Good Food Institute. Operators should be taking note, and events such as Veganuary offer the chance to trial implementing vegan items into their menus.
Alex Rushmer, chef-patron of Cambridge-based restaurant Vanderlyle, shows that operators can experiment with meat-free dishes that don’t compromise on taste or luxury, from cashew parfait to plant-based seaweed caviar. “Vegetable-based cookery […] is incredibly interesting, it’s very challenging, but it’s also a hell of a lot cheaper,” he explains. With resources under pressure globally and many businesses and households struggling to keep up with inflation, plant-based may be more than just a healthier, more ethical option, but a more economically viable one too.
While vegan or plant-based cuisines may once have belonged to the minority, and the idea of Veganuary may have been considered a passing trend, it is increasingly apparent that plant-based, meat-free or flexitarian food options are here to stay, offering consumers and operators alike an opportunity to rethink the implications of their ingredients.