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Veganuary: A snowflake fad trend, or growing social movement?

By Claudia Gordon

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 620,000 official sign-ups in Jan 2022 – with that number expected to increase further in 2023.

After becoming increasingly more aware of the negative effect that the meat industry has on the environment, I tried it myself (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 – 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 analytics platform to analyze social listening data around “Veganuary”, creating a case study that determined how the conversation has evolved over several 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’.

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 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 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 I can confirm, 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 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 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 of 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

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 the increase of an environmental focus, social audiences 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 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 more 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.

Conclusion from our social listening case study

When looking back over this social listening case study, which utilizes social listening and Relative Insight, the growing commercialization from leading brands, the wider variety of tasty meat-free 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.

Analyse social listening data