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A social listening case study on Veganuary: A snowflake fad trend, or growing social movement?

By Claudia Gordon

Veganuary‘ started out in 2014 as an organisation that encouraged people to try going vegan during January, with the aim of encouraging it as a lifestyle choice all year round. Its following has increased every year, with an estimated 250,000 people taking part in 2019, and a predicted 500,000 by the end of Jan 2020.

After becoming increasingly more aware of the negative effect that the meat industry has on the environment, I tried it myself last year (with a number of both accidental and guilty slip-ups), and one of the interesting things I noticed were other people’s reactions when they found out what I was doing. Most were supportive, some were doubtful that I could stick to it, whilst others seemed surprisingly judgemental, with one particular individual dismissing it as a ‘snowflake fad’.

So, this got me thinking- it feels like Veganuary, and veganism in general, is more ‘socially acceptable’ than it was three years ago – but I was interested in finding out how people’s opinions changed, and what are the driving motivations behind trying it?

I used Relative Insight’s comparative text analysis platform to analyse social listening data around “Veganuary”, creating a case study which determined how the conversation has evolved over the last three years.

2018: HEALTH & HAPPINESS

I found that one of the key driving factors for trying Veganuary in 2018 was the perceived health benefits that it offers. People were 3.4x more likely to talk about Veganuary in relation to ‘health’ than in 2019/20, with a strong emphasis on how it affected their ‘lifestyle’.

social listening x relative insight card - veganuary 2018

People were also 1.3x more likely to talk about trying veganism in the first person, supporting the idea that people were trying the vegan lifestyle for their own personal health benefits. These more egocentric motivations might have been one of the contributing factors behind others negative attitudes towards it at the time.

On top of this, the word ‘unfortunately’ was 18x more likely to occur in 2018, as a large number of people trying Veganuary felt like they unfortunately didn’t have the meat free options available to them they would like, especially to continue Veganism as a long-term lifestyle. Also, a lot of these complaints pointed to the issue that brands and restaurants were offering Vegetarian, but no Vegan, food options.

These social insights also identified 2.6x more negative conversation around veganism, with celebrities such as Piers Morgan publicly expressing their distaste,  safe to say he wasn’t a fan…

2019: THE VEGAN SAUSAGE ROLL!

The largest difference in conversation from 2019 was of course…. the much-awaited Greggs VEGAN sausage roll. No one could quite believe it would taste the same (although I can confirm, it is surprisingly similar to the original), which brings us on too what the largest focus on conversation in 2019 was – taste.

social listening x relative insight card - veganuary 2019

In this social listening case study, we found that in 2019 people were 1.8x more likely to talk about how tasty alternative vegan options are, as well as how many other vegan options were starting to appear on restaurant menus and as mainstream recipes.

This change in mood was likely influenced by the spectacular PR from Greggs (releasing the sausage roll like a new iPhone), but it also seeped into a lot of other brand marketing, as well as individual posts around how tasty new vegan options were.

Interestingly, our social insights also revealed that in 2019 people were 5.6x more likely to mention @Piers Morgan when discussing  Veganuary. Almost all of this conversation centred around promoting vegan food in response to the fact that Piers was outwardly critical of it (as seen back in 2018).

“All credit to @piersmorgan, he’s single handedly caused a spike in the sale of vegan and vegetarian products in the UK. Truly with great obnoxiousness comes great responsibility. #Veganuary ”

“Beg to differ Piers, well done @GreggsOfficial #vegansausageroll #Veganuary #Greggs”

The increase of a mocking critique of those who publicly speak out against veganism also seemed to suggest a growing social acceptance of veganism in general.

2020: EASE & ENVIRONMENT

So far, the veganuary conversation in 2020 seems more focused on the negative effect that mass farming is having on the environment. This is both in terms of thinking more about where the meat is actually coming from, and the effect that its production is having on the environment.

social listening x relative insight card - veganuary 2020

However, alongside the increase of an environmental focus, there is an emerging trend that people are also 1.9x more likely to talk about the effect that a shift towards mass veganism might start to have on farming and horticulture if the demand for meat continues to decline.

But, in stark contrast to 2018, people are 2.6x more likely to talk about ‘easy’ it is to take on a vegan diet and find meat free replacements, such as the newly released vegan stake bake from Greggs.

When looking back over this case study which utilises social listening and Relative Insight, I would suggest that whilst I’m sure there are still a number of individuals who consider veganism to be a ‘snowflake fad’ much like Dry January or Sober October – the growing commercialisation from leading brands, the wider variety of tasty meat-free alternatives, and the increasing rebuttal of those who mock it, would indicate that veganism is moving away from a perceived millennial phase, and more into the realm of an accepted social norm.