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Veganuary: A snowflake trend, or growing social movement?

‘Veganuary’ started out in 2014 as an organization 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 growing to more than 705,000 official sign-ups in Jan 2023.

Other people’s reactions are a key facet of conversation around Veganuary. Anecdotally, there’s a mix of responses to people’s intentions to ‘do Veganuary’. Some are supportive, yet others are judgemental, with certain individuals dismissing it as a ‘snowflake fad’.

Are Veganuary, and veganism in general, more ‘socially acceptable’ than they were? If so, how have people’s opinions changed, and what Veganuary trends are the driving motivations behind trying it?

Relative Insight’s comparative text analytics platform analyzed social listening data around “Veganuary”, creating a social listening case study that determined how the conversation has evolved over several years.

2018: Health & happiness

One of the key driving factors for trying Veganuary in 2018 was its perceived health benefits. 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’.

Our text analysis platform highlighted that people undertook Veganuary in 2018 for health benefits

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 18.0x 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,:

Veganuary….what new special kind of Hell is this? 🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢.” Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 1, 2018

2019: The vegan sausage roll

The largest difference in conversation from 2019 was of course…. the much-awaited VEGAN sausage roll from UK bakery chain Greggs. Renowned for its meat-filled sausage roll, this pivot by one of Britain’s leading fast food vendors attracted a huge amount of attention from celebrities and ordinary members of the public.

No one could quite believe it would taste the same (although many tweeters highlighted that it is surprisingly similar to the original), which brings us on to what the largest focus on conversation in 2019 was – taste.

Piers Morgan and the vegan sausage roll dominated Veganuary 2019

In our 2019 analysis of this social listening case study, people were 1.8x more likely to talk about how tasty alternative vegan options were, 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 people were 5.6x more likely to mention @Piers Morgan when discussing Veganuary. Almost all of this conversation centered 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 in mocking critiques of those who publicly speak out against veganism also seemed to suggest a growing social acceptance of veganism in general.

2020: Ease & environment

Veganuary conversation in 2020 was more focused on the negative effect that mass farming has on the environment. This is both in terms of thinking more about where the meat is actually coming from and its production.

Social listening case study examines Veganuary trends in 2020

However, alongside this increase in environmental focus, social audiences were 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 were 2.6x more likely to talk about how ‘easy’ it is to take on a vegan diet and find meat-free replacements.

2021: ‘Meat-free’ and ‘plant-based’ enter the lexicon

As vegan diets and lifestyles become mainstream, the number of brands creating ‘plant-based’ and ‘meat-free’ food has increased. By 2021, these terms had begun to catch on with the general public.

Veganuary 2021 sees the rise of 'meat-free' and 'plant-based'.

People talking about Veganuary were infinitely more likely to use the word ‘free’, relating to the terms meat-free and dairy-free. They were also more likely to use the word ‘plant’ (16.3x) and ‘based’ (20.3x) – adopting the descriptors used by vegan food brands. These terms clearly resonate with consumers and are an easy way for them to identify vegan food.

2022: Community, conversion and advice

By 2022, Veganuary has clearly progressed from a ‘fad’ to a ‘movement’. Social conversations about the subject have a real community feel, with those who have taken part for years sharing their experiences and encouraging others to join in.

They were 1.8x more likely to use the words ‘go’ and ‘going’ – encouraging people to go vegan and to ‘keep going’ through Veganuary. Existing vegans also used the phrase ‘best decision’ 6.2x more often and ‘never looked back’ 6.0x more, trying to persuade those considering adopting a vegan diet or lifestyle to take the plunge.

Just a Sunday shoutout to all those going for #veganuary – you are awesome! It’s really exciting to see many people on board – keep it going!!! 🌱 👏🏽 🌱 👏🏽”

Social listening case study highlights the Veganuary community in 2022.

The number of people offering advice to first-timers is also on the increase. In 2022, much of this knowledge sharing involved vitamin B12, which isn’t present in many plant-based foods. Vegan and Veganuary veterans were quick to help people find other ways of incorporating this critical vitamin into a vegan diet.

@g74459419@richhhhhhh@veganuary b12: add nutritional yeast to your home cooked food or spread some marmite on your toast.

2023: Vegan fish & eating out

Two new wrinkles emerged in 2023’s Veganuary analysis. The first surrounds eating at restaurants. Social audiences were 8.7x more likely to talk about ‘restaurants’ when compared with the previous five years, with conversations highlighting the range of vegan options available throughout the month.

Loads and loads of restaurants do new things exclusively for Veganuary, even if you don’t want to fully commit it’s a great month to try something new and expand your options and maybe pick a vegan meal when you go out. 🫶🏼”

The biggest trend which captured tweeters’ imaginations in 2023 was vegan fish. Veganuary discussions mentioned ‘fish’ 4.5x more in 2023, while also using the word ‘fishless’ 13.8x more. This incorporated a range of products, but among those most likely to over-index were ‘fish sticks’ (24.3x) and ‘vegan scampi’ ().

Sophie’s does some great fishless products, especially their prawns. They are mostly on the west coast US tho. Not sure they export. Also in US Mae Wah makes great vegan sea food & pretty much any meat imaginable. Asian suppliers/ groceries r usually a good bet.

2023 Veganuary trends around vegan fish illustrated through an insight card.

Spilling the Veganuary tea in 2024

The latest iteration of the Veganuary movement saw an evolution in discussions around the environment. While this was a key conversation area as long ago as 2020, in 2024 the debate became more scientific.

Words relating to ‘ecology’ overindexed 39.3x more in this year, such as ‘ecosystems’, ‘ecological’ and ‘habitats’. Additionally, the word ‘biodiversity’ appeared 13.1x more overall.

These topics and words signpost arguments about the impact of farming on global ecosystems, with Veganuary proponents arguing against current practices, while those opposed to vegan diets contended that land use would increase if more food was plant-based.

Chris Packham is highly intelligent. He knows the severe damage meat and dairy is doing to world biodiversity.

If hypothetically we all went vegan it would mean more farmland being needed for crop growing. That in turn would further reduce the biodiversity of our land as hedges would have to be removed and further contribute to an acceleration in climate change 🤷.”

Despite plant-based milk being available for many years, 2024 was when it trended in Veganuary conversations. This permeated in discussions around drinking habits, particularly surrounding tea and coffee.

Online conversations referenced ‘coffee & tea’ 18.1x more in 2024, while people talking about Veganuary also mentioned ‘milk’ 2.0x more than in other years. This consisted of consumers sharing tips and pointers about what plant-based milks worked best for different food and drink.

Barista oat milk is awesome in coffee and with cereal, almond milk in porridge. Nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavour. You can still have everything you used to have, just get creative and be mindful of your nutrition.

An insight card showing how vegan dairy was a key discussion topic in 2024.

Analyzing seven years of Veganuary trends data using the Relative Insight platform not only allows you to track year-on-year changes. Through Heartbeat, you can also visualize how prevalent these trends are over the course of seven years. This is done by combining topics, words and phrases from the 1m+ words we’ve analyzed, then categorizing them into Custom Themes.

How do health and ethics deviate?

Heartbeat illustrates how Veganuary motivations have fluctuated year on year. We built themes based on the topics of ‘environmentalism’ and ‘health’. The former relates to ethical and environmental reasons for eating vegan, while the latter focused on health and diet.

The Heartbeat chart highlights that audiences are more likely to view Veganuary through a health and wellness lens, rather than around ethical concerns. Conversations between the two subjects broadly have a negative correlation. In 2023, the two themes featured in discussions at a similar level, but otherwise the health improvement aspect of Veganuary dominates.

Visualizing meat-free and plant-based

Tracking and visualizing themes from social data over time also enables you to pinpoint trend popularity. Within Veganuary, this is most visible with the terms ‘meat-free’ and ‘plant-based’.

The Heartbeat chart demonstrates how these terms begin entering consumers’ lexicons in 2020, before peaking in 2021. Ever since, the term has been used less prevalently within audience conversations.

The ebbs and flows of vegan food and drink

Relative Insight’s year-on-year analysis of Veganuary has surfaced zeitgeist products each year. By compiling these products into themes, it’s fascinating to see how their popularity rise and fall.

In the chart, you can see that vegan sausage rolls featured most prominently as part of conversations in 2019 and 2021 before subsiding. Vegan fish hit critical mass in 2023 before falling in 2024, while conversations around plant-based milk has risen sharply since 2022.

Inflation bites Veganuary

Over the time period of this analysis, the global economy fluctuated wildly. With vegan products traditionally costing more than alternatives, Relative Insight wanted to track the impact of inflation and increased cost of living on the Veganuary movement.

We created a Custom Theme that included words such as ‘price’, ‘cost’, ‘expense’ and ‘inflation’. Plotting this onto a Heartbeat chart revealed an expected – yet illuminating – trend.

Conversations around the cost of Veganuary have steadily increased as inflation rose globally. From 2021 onwards, consumers have expressed concern around vegan food’s impact on their finances. This reinforces data showing that year-round sales of vegan food are on the decline.

Conclusion from our social listening case study

When looking back over this social listening case study, the growing commercialization from leading brands, the wider variety of tasty meat-free, plant-based and fish-free alternatives, and the increasing rebuttal of those who mock it indicate that veganism has moved away from a perceived ‘fad’ and into an accepted social norm.

Each year of Veganuary offers a new iteration of the movement, with different aspects of veganism in focus. Brands looking to support people taking part in the event can use social media analysis to chart how different focus areas have evolved, and may even use this research to predict what will be in vogue next Veganuary.

Analyze trends over time