After a decade of Veganuary, are we now approaching ‘peak vegan’?

Sam Boyle, Consultant

Research undertaken by YouGov in partnership with Veganuary reports that around 25 million people worldwide participated in Veganuary this year, with nearly 75% of Brits saying they are aware of the campaign. There is clearly a sizeable appetite for taking up the challenge of going vegan at least for one month of the year, but what effect is it really having on our eating habits and are there signs that as Veganuary enters its second decade we are approaching ‘peak vegan’?

The Veganuary campaign was started by Matthew Glover and Jane Land in 2014, marking its tenth anniversary this year. It aims to educate and inspire people around the world to explore the benefits of plant-based living. This year, leading brands such as Hard Rock Café introduced vegan menus globally, while companies including Claire’s Accessories and Salesforce participated in Veganuary’s Workplace Challenge, alongside 115 other UK organisations; the highest number over the last decade.

In 2014, vegans made up just 0.25% of the UK population; the latest official estimate is 1.5% in England and Wales, or approximately 900,000 people. This is perhaps down to the increase in vegan options in supermarkets and eateries, as well as rising environmental awareness of the impact that eating animal products can have, including the contribution of animal agriculture to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and water pollution.

The growth in the number of celebrities supporting veganism and the positive health associations with the lifestyle have also led many food business to expand the variety of meat-free products they offer in order to keep up with the trend.

However, the growth of veganism isn’t without its snags. Experts have warned that without the right technology in place, it could increase the pressure within production lines to cope with the introduction of new products to the market. Elsewhere, cost-of-living pressures and the saturation of the market with vegan products may be getting in the way of further growth in the popularity of ‘Veganuary’ and the wider uptake of veganism.

The traditional vegan diet is in theory cheaper than eating dairy and meat. However, the vegan products which are often heavily marketed to consumers today can often prove more expensive and therefore worse value for money. In March 2023, The Grocer reported that meat-free ranges in major supermarkets had shrunk due to market-saturation and the standards of vegan alternatives not being consistent.

Could veganism also be losing out to adoption of other approaches to diet that have become more prominent recently? For example, the increase in the number of people calling themselves ‘flexitarians’, reducing the amount of meat and fish they eat, may lead adherents to this approach to feel they’re still doing their bit for the environment without going vegan.

Increased adoption of regenerative agriculture by British farmers, centred on practices which seek to tackle climate change by restoring biodiversity and rebuilding organic matter in the soil, provides another route through which consumers can feel that they are supporting the environment and consuming ethically without giving up eating animal products. This is particularly the case if you’re as keen to support your local farmers as you are to help protect the planet.

So, whilst the Veganuary movement has undoubtedly significantly increased awareness of the vegan diet and made people think twice about how what they eat impacts the planet, it’s probably safer to bet on veganism – even as it continues to grow in popularity – being part of a wider trend in which the diets we follow are becoming both more diverse and increasingly ethically conscious, rather than as a sign that we’re only a few years away from universal adoption of a plant-based diet.

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