Published February 5, 2022
Consumer insights on Veganuary UK with Talkwalker
If you’ve tuned into your favourite TV show or been grocery shopping, chances are you’ll have heard of Veganuary. It’s a global phenomenon. People go vegan during the month of January, hence the name. The event is growing in popularity across the UK thanks to social media awareness.
In our food industry trends report with Twitter, sustainability conversations around food have increased 13% YoY on Twitter with topics like meat-free foods increasingly gaining interest among younger generations.
But have these discussions actually had an impact on people’s behaviours? In short, yes. Consumer insights from a YouGov poll found 4% of the UK’s adult population planned to try out the plant-based diet in January 2022, which equates to 2.7 million people. A small start but indeed a trend that brands should pay attention to.
Since its inception in 2014, the meat-free movement has consistently gathered more members year after year. With a 50% increase in sign-ups since the beginning of the pandemic, 2022 was no exception to the trend. British consumers did not shy away from the challenge, maintaining the UK as the top market in terms of registrations and mentions on social media.
Accounting for 35% of the global conversation, the United Kingdom is clearly a market with huge potential for FMCG brands that want to ride the vegan train. Using our AI-enabled consumer intelligence platform, I turned social data into consumer insights to find out how British brands engaged with this phenomenon.
Where’s the buzz?
Whether it was about animal welfare, sustainability, health benefits, or sharing recipes, conversations about the event were going full swing with over 50 thousand results and 250K engagement in the space of a month. Many brands got involved and battled for the audience’s attention with marketing campaigns each more creative than the other.
The UK’s leading frozen food brand, Birds Eye, hit hard with its green cuisine #DoWhatYouCanuary campaign (42% positive sentiment), addressing all consumers and not just vegans. Fast food giant McDonald’s created even more buzz when it announced a new partnership with meat-free brand Beyond Meat. McPlant, the brand's very first vegan burger, collected 82.9K mentions, 420.9K engagement and over 2M views of the video across social media.
— McDonald's UK (@McDonaldsUK) January 5, 2022
Using consumer insights to innovate
With 92% of plant-based meals being eaten by people who don’t associate with being vegan (Kantar), data around the growing meat-free food economy is full of consumer insights and commercial opportunities. January 2022 was a busy month for the FMCG industry and the big players competed for their share of the cake.
Using Conversation Clusters, we can see that it was Aldi who stole the spotlight. It gathered the most interest in consumer conversations, when it came up with a full-line of vegan products, out of which their vegan cheese received the most mentions. This specific cheese received 62.9% positive sentiment, with consumers showing their excitement about the product.
@AldiUK please keep your vegan cheese for longer than Veganury! It's the best cheese ever
— Ellie King (@Elljkxoxo) January 15, 2022
A move that turned out to be very fruitful for the supermarket chain as it saw a 500% spike in plant-based sales and a 250% year-on-year increase of its vegan range sales.
However, Aldi wasn’t alone in the race to win over the vegan consumer. Taking it very seriously, Sainsbury’s predicted in their Future of Food report that vegans and vegetarians are pegged to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.
It saw a 24% increase in customers searching for vegan products online and started investing in bio-fortification foods like their Super Mushrooms.
Other retailers have seen an opportunity for growth and broadened their offering for the occasion. Tesco did not shy away from it either and expanded its plant-based offer with notable success.
“In the last year we have concentrated on making the best quality plant-based food even more accessible for shoppers by lowering prices” said Derek Sarno - Head of plant-based food innovation at Tesco.
Tesco celebrated a sales boom with the introduction of a new plant-based meal deal with Wicked Kitchen, making vegan food affordable to millions of consumers and generating 270K engagement.
— Vibrant Energy Ⓥ (@vibrantnrg) January 28, 2022
Other vegan products also enjoyed impressive growth in January, such as meat alternatives and chilled desserts (+40%), dairy alternative milk drinks (+100%), and pasta with a whopping 140% increase in sales.
Grocers weren’t the only brands that innovated in the plant-based space. Veganuary was the perfect excuse for many businesses to launch their own vegan products. Amongst the most anticipated were Domino’s, with a vegan range of its best-selling pizzas (267.3K engagement), and Philadelphia’s oat-based spread, collecting a humble 6.5K mentions.
Babybel also jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a new coconut milk cheese wheel. Papa John’s revealed its dairy-free, cheesy bites. Nando’s added a spiced chickpea burger to its expanding vegan menu… The list goes on and consumers now have more options to meet their needs than ever before.
Getting closer to consumers
Over the past year, online talks around alternative foods have boomed. With the right social intelligence strategy, brands can take advantage of those millions of conversations and extract consumer insights to understand and get closer to their consumers.
Answering people’s desire for more varied plant-based food options by launching new products and expanding product ranges is great to make vegan-friendly consumers happy. But it’s not the only benefit. By taking part in the vegan movement, brands can address different societal issues that are dear to their customers, such as sustainability, health concerns, or animal cruelty.
With the right data, brands can measure conversations around their offering, and report and optimise their messaging to be better aligned with their customers. Sometimes we need to dig deeper to bond with our customers and find connections. In the case of Veganuary, there is no need to be edible to be credible and some brands understood that.
Moved by the desire to build stronger ties with their customers, 75 global brands joined the 2022 initiative as official members with bright and shiny PR campaigns that resulted in positive uplift in net sentiment. Harrods’ Veganuary content enjoyed a positive sentiment of 36% and Superdrug did even better with 50.8% (with respectively 58.8 and 44.5% neutral sentiment).
Consumer insights is the new gold
In today's digital age, brands have tons of data but what they really need is real-time consumer insights. Moving forward, FMCG brands will have to innovate in order to maintain a competitive advantage and increase market share. It’s becoming more crucial than ever before for brands to be consumer-centric. Consumers are the real decision makers, they drive trends and consume products. UK brands can monitor and analyse real-time conversations online to optimise their campaigns and use not only Veganuary in this instance as an efficient marketing and communications tool, but also turn any consumer intelligence into consumer insights to achieve consumer closeness.
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