There’s no denying it, veganism’s popularity is insatiable.
Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus and Lewis Hamilton have all proudly declared their plant-based way of life; and after a successful Veganuary this year, the number of vegans living in the UK could have risen by another 2.9m this year.
But even in 2019, dubbed to be ‘the year of the vegan’, we know that being vegan isn’t always as easy as (vegan) pie, so we conducted some research into vegan products and shopping experience. Here are some of the key findings:
It matters where you shop.
Waitrose stands out from the crowd and has won the respect of vegan shoppers, by being the first UK supermarket to have a dedicated, varied and prominent vegan chilled section (launched June 2018). Iceland, who also made an impact last Christmas with its controversial ‘Rang-tan’ advert, containing bold statements about removing palm oil from its products, currently stands as the supermarket with the largest frozen vegan food section. Other supermarkets commended for their vegan-appeal were Marks and Spencer and Sainsburys; independent supermarkets Hisbe and Infinity Foods, here in Brighton, were also praised, highly.
Brands: it pays to pay attention
Brands who have responded to the demand for vegan products have reaped the benefits. High street chains like Greggs with their vegan sausage roll (which caused huge social media hype), have seen them contribute a huge rise in sales and value.
Other big food brands have successfully launched vegan products like Hellman’s Vegan Mayo (which actually launched back in 2016!) and Goodfellas Vegan Pizza (launched 2019); plant-based milk alternative brands such as Oatly and Alpro have become wildly successful; not forgetting the more controversial vegan food brands such as Impossible Foods’ bleeding burger, (read more about that on our blog: Bleedin’ Vegan Burgers.
Food packaging can be confusing
When shopping for new products, our respondents noted how difficult it was to find vegan products. Due to the relaxed guidelines on food packaging in the EU (as outlined by direct.gov) food packaging can contain mixed messages and so shopping vegan was far from easy or convenient. We found that initially shoppers will almost always look for vegetarian or vegan symbols first (shown below), before checking in detail through the listed ingredients. However, despite veganism being first officially recognised in 1944, vegan labels are scarce, perhaps due to the cost implications of using the symbols which are trademarked and/or licensed.
This symbol is another commonly used vegan symbol and is a registered trademark by the Vegan Society
Aside from the direct labels, packaging symbols can be a bit of a minefield for shoppers. Some brands (like Hellman’s Mayo) choose to appeal directly to vegan shoppers by loudly displaying the word vegan, In contrast, relative newbie brands such as Wicked Kitchen and Freaks Of Nature, avoid the logos all together and instead opt to appeal to the general public by prioritising their dairy free, gluten-free or plant-based credentials instead.
Who’s got plant appeal?
As well as researching vegan shopping experience, we were curious to know more about vegan food packaging, so gathered some insight through our social channels.
We asked: ‘Does reading ‘vegan’ on food packaging put you off buying or trying a new product?’
Although the majority responded with ‘no’, commenting that they “like to keep an open mind about food”, many of the respondents commented that they would be put off by the vegan label and actively question the ingredients and “check if it was a highly processed product or not”.
Of the third that answered ‘yes, it would’ they most commonly responded that their barrier was that they couldn’t go without dairy products such as milk and cheese.
According to the Vegan Society, more than half of UK adults are now adopting ‘vegan buying behaviour’ and with the trend in meat-free eating continuing to rise, supermarkets and brands are adapting and responding to the rise in popularity of the new normal.
Supermarkets are recognising the huge growth-opportunity to be known as a ‘vegan-friendly’ retailers and are continuing to expand on their vegan/vegetarian and plant-based-food ranges, with improved clearly signposting in chilled and frozen aisles to make shopping for vegan products much simpler and more convenient. Dedicated fixtures or even aisles are doubtless just around the corner.
Food brands, whether newbies, potential challengers or established mainstream, need to adapt and be mindful of a new wave of open-minded shoppers.
Great taste and product quality are now mandatory expectations for this audience so brands needs to develop a positioning that goes beyond simple product features and benefits. The brands that have a clear purpose, belief or perspective on the world and share it with their shoppers loudly and proudly will be the ones to succeed in this new market, and can do that without turning off their traditional fan base.