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Tapping into the vegan market: is your brand missing out on meaty profits?

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Edward Weston Executive 08/02/2022

Last year over half a million people signed up to take part in Veganuary and this year is on track to be even more successful with the likes of Krispy Kreme, Burger King, Starbucks and Pizza Express all releasing new products to mark the occasion.

However, with plant-based diets fast becoming more than just an annual January trend, many mainstream brands are already offering vegan options on their menu’s, and some have even taken it a step further by opening vegan / vegetarian-only counterparts, such as Pret a Manger and Pizza Express.

We’ve seen years of the health trend increasing, but this illustrates a possible tipping point in attitudes, as a healthy diet starts to become re-defined.

This trend reflects changes in consumer mindsets, that being increasingly health-conscious, with heightened attention in recent years around the link between what we consume and our physical and mental wellbeing. And it’s not just vegans who share this mentality toward healthier eating — many consumers are adding plant-based alternatives for variety in their meals, not because of a principled diet.

Along with restaurants, supermarkets are also cashing in on this trend, lining their shelves with meat and dairy alternatives to cater to this growing audience. Supermarket giant, Tesco, has pledged to increase its sales of meat alternatives by 300% from 2020 to 2025. It’s the first supermarket out of the big four to make this type of commitment but with Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrison’s each launching their own line of vegan products, it’s clear they are also expecting plant-based sales to take off.

With the shift towards plant-based eating showing no signs of slowing down, what can your brand do to get a piece of the pie?

1. Develop and refine existing products

Try adapting popular meat-based products to cater to vegan consumers without alienating regular customers. Ensuring that new product contents and satisfaction align with user expectations, this can encourage higher repeat rates and better overall sales.

For example, the high uptake of burger substitutes, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, has helped adoptive brands like McDonald’s and Burger King become more accessible to this market.

2. Understanding the needs of your target market

With the new generation of food and drink products being influenced by an increasingly health-orientated and sustainably conscious customer base, brands must discover which elements have the most influence on their consumer’s behaviour and decision making.

According to data from our Consumer Compass tracker, over a third of UK households report following meat-avoiding diets (from vegan to flexitarian). A quarter vow to reduce meat consumption in the next 12 months, and the importance of plant-based diets has increased from 37% in 2019 to 42% in 2021. Tapping into this idea of eco-indulgence: if there’s some ecological benefit or some sustainability benefit, people will go ahead and indulge more happily.

3. Understand that authenticity is key

Looking at our Grocery Eye findings from the past year, and comparing data to 2019, alongside broader attitudes to food packaging, sourcing, and manufacturing; the data shows the increasing importance of British, local, and authentic ingredients – pointing to an appeal of foods that reinforces culture, authenticity, and familiarity.

During the pandemic, consumers sought foods that were familiar and comforting, with heritage brands showing sales increases. It is likely consumers will be more open to trying plant-based food variants if they authentically reflect what is familiar.

We’ve seen years of the health trend increasing, but this illustrates a possible tipping point in attitudes, as a healthy diet starts to become re-defined, not simply by the quantity of fruit, vegetables, low-sugar, or low-fat foods consumed, but by a more holistic and balanced lifestyle.

Brands must remember that as this sector grows, so too does its consumer base, bringing with it more diverse needs and desires than those of early buyers.

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