Veganuary gains traction in US – shining a spotlight on areas ripe for plant-based innovation

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/mixetto
Source: Getty/mixetto

Related tags vegan plant-based Veganuary Milk Egg

Nearly a third of Americans plan to drop or reduce animal-based products in their diet this month in favor of vegan options as part of Veganuary – a well-established global movement that may still be relatively new in the US, but which still is shining a light on areas ripe for plant-based innovation and fast growth.

Since Veganuary​ launched in England and Wales in January 2014 with a mission to inspire more people to try vegan for January and beyond, the non-profit has tracked exponential growth in its annual event worldwide with participation reaching more than 582,000 people in 209 countries and territories in 2021 – a record-breaking number that far surpassed the 400,000 who participated in 2020.

Entering its third year in the US, the non-profit reports that a YouGov survey found 32% of Americans plan to eat more plant-based and vegan foods in the new year and 30% say their perception of a vegan diet has improved in the last two years since Veganuary first challenged Americans to go vegan in January 2020.

Based on insights from last year’s challenge, most participants (74%) do not yet follow a plant-based diet when they commit to Veganuary – in fact last year, only 12% identified as vegan and 24% as vegetarian. But after participating in the challenge, 40% said they planned to stay vegan and 75% of those who did not plan to eat all plant-based all the time said they planned to halve their animal product intake going forward and 75% were very or extremely likely to try vegan again in the future.

While consumer interest in plant-based eating is gaining traction thanks in part to Veganuary’s efforts to raise awareness, promote plant-based products and share vegan recipes, the non-profit acknowledges challenges remain. According to the YouGov survey, 31% of Americans are interested in going all in on a vegan diet, but have “reservations,”​ including 13% who worry that they can’t stick with it, 10% who worry about affordability and 9% who want more meal plans and recipes.

A follow-up survey of participants last year also revealed some of the biggest pain-points for people globally trying an all plant-based diet. For example, when asked which non-vegan product they missed the most during Veganuary, 41% cited cheese, 14% said eggs, 9% fish, 9% milk chocolate, 7% chicken and 5% said milk.

Of these challenges, the sustainability-focused social e-commerce platform abillion and market research firm Mintel see significant potential for innovation and expanded distribution of plant-based eggs, fish, and milks, among other areas.

Egg substitutes predicted to reach $1.5bn by 2026

Based on analysis of more than a million reviews of vegan and sustainable products, abillion called out vegan eggs as ready to go to the next level in 2022 thanks to a slew of liquid and powdered egg replacement products that have entered the market in recent years.

“All signs point to the plant-based egg industry embarking on a similar trajectory as alternative meat in its early days of product innovation,”​ abillion notes in a recently published 2022 trends report.

It calls out JUST’s liquid plant-based eggs as having garnered more than 700 reviews on the abillion app, followed by powdered replacement products like Orgran and Bob’s Red Mill.

“The only other notable liquid egg contender is Crack’d, which launched its cold-pressed egg substitute in late 2020 and has been making headway in the British market where JUST is currently unavailable,”​ it notes.

Seafood alternatives moves beyond tuna and salmon

While still relatively niche, plant-based seafood is another category primed for significant growth in 2022, according to Mintel and abillion.

“In recent years, meat substitute innovation has largely focused on red and white meat alternatives, while seafood alternatives have remained fairly niche. However, plant-based seafood innovation has recently picked up pace,”​ with a variety of companies launching animal-free tuna and lox, Mintel’s global food and drink analyst Dasha Shor notes in a recent blog post on the research firm’s site.

Shor says consumers are attracted to plant-based seafood because it helps them avoid environmental and ethical concerns, like overfishing, as well as environmental pollution. Fish substitutes also are often considered less intimidating, more convenient and easier to prepare.

“In the future, plant-based seafood products can also find a niche in imitating species that are rare, endangered, or more difficult and expensive to collect, clean and transport – like sea urchin, bluefin tuna, sturgeon or fish roe,”​ Shor writes.

Abillion says since 2020, reviews on its app for ocean-friendly alternatives have grown 9.4 times with significant growth in the UK, Spain and Argentina. It also called out Asia Pacific as the region with the most immediate growth potential.

‘Oat milk will superseded dairy milk in color and variety’

Oat milk has emerged as a darling in the non-dairy milk category with sales growing $117m in the eight months to August 2021, according to IRI data, but Mintel sees significant potential beyond oat.

“The next plant-based milk will have sustainability at its core,”​ Mintel global food and drink analyst Ophelie Buchet writes in a blog post on the research firm’s site. “Consumers switch from dairy milks to plant-based because of their environmental credentials, above taste and price. This is especially true for young consumers, who consume less animal proteins primarily to help the environment.”

As such, Buchet sees potential for potato milk to displace oat as a more sustainable dairy free alternative – even though the ingredient currently represents less than 0.2% of launches in the space.

“High profile launches like DUG’s potato-based drink could boost interest for the plant-based ingredient,”​ Buchet writes, noting that the brand highlights potatoes are twice as land-efficient as oats and have similar carbon and water footprints.

While sustainability is important, so too is taste, which abillion says will help the plant-based dairy set grow in 2022.

“Reviews on our platform for caramel, chai, matcha and banana flavored versions of the beverage have increased by more than 100%. Consumption of chocolate and vanilla flavors continue to grow at a robust pace of 84% and 89% respectively in 2021, compared to 2020,”​ abillion notes.

Eating out remains a hurdle for vegans

While CPG innovations are making it easier for people to follow plant-based diets at home, Veganuary found that eating out was the biggest challenge for 15% of participants last year – outlining an opportunity for more restaurants to expand their plant-based offerings.

Answering this call, abillion predicts that fast food chains will have a greater impact on reducing animal consumption in 2022.

“Vegan versions of fast food have long existed, but it’s only when massive chains like McDonald’s and Burger King dive into the movement, that a real impact can be felt. For one, these global QSRs cater to the masses and make plant-based versions of their products – often burgers – available to more people,”​ abillion notes.

It adds that 54% of respondents in a Piplsay survey who had heard of plant-based options at fast-food restaurants had tried it. Of them, 72% identified as meat-eaters – underscoring the sales potential goes far beyond niche groups.

Other categories ripe for disruption

Beyond these, abillion sees significant potential for plant-based alternatives to milk chocolate, a category where it says it is seeing major chocolatiers and local brands enter with versions made from oat, coconut, almond and rice.

On the savory side, Mintel predicts the “snackification” of meals could “unlock new eating occasions”​ for meat alternatives targeting flexitarians.