Veganuary: Fast food giants launch plant-based meals as red meat sales plummet

KFC's vegan burger (pictured) proved a hit during trials last summer.

Launched in the UK in 2014 by a team of environmentalists, the Veganuary campaign challenges participants to eat only vegan foods for 31 days, with a view that they will change their dietary habits in the long-term. 

After the campaign recorded record participation in 2019, many businesses have been keen to cash in on the occasion for 2020, given that 300,000 people have already signed up.

Following the successful launch of its vegan sausage roll last January, Greggs this week debuted a vegan version of its popular steak bake. The new version is made using funghi-based protein Quorn and has already proven a huge hit, attracting queues of up to 20 minutes.  

Greggs’ profits soared 52% to £36.7 million for the 26 weeks to 29 June 2019, a trajectory attributed to the vegan sausage roll launch. Similar success is expected around the new steak bake. 

KFC, meanwhile, has introduced a vegan ‘chicken’ burger to its menu as a permanent addition, following successful trials. It is marketing the burger, again made using Quorn, with taglines such as “new burger, who dis?” and “11 herbs and spices. Zero chicken.”

During trials of KFC’s vegan burger, the chain said it racked up sales 500% higher than its traditional chicken offering.

But other businesses’ attempts to cash in on Veganuary have proven less successful. After unveiling a ‘veggie dippers’ meal, which includes goujons made using split peas and red pepper pesto, McDonald’s was widely criticised on Twitter, with customers saying they would have preferred a hearty burger or a faux-chicken option.

Other notable Veganuary launches include Subway’s meatless meatball marinara sandwich; Costa Coffee’s Quorn ham and vegan cheese toastie; Frankie & Benny’s first dedicated vegan menu; a fish-free ‘tuna’ bowl from Wagamama and Marks & Spencer’s ‘No Chicken Kiev’. The launch of the kiev builds on the success of the retailer’s Plant Kitchen range, which launched last year. Since the range launched, surveys of M&S customers have found that one in four now consider themselves ‘flexitarian’ or otherwise plant-based.

More than a trend?

Research conducted by Nielsen and published for the first time in The Grocer last month showed that sales of beef and pork in supermarkets fell by £184.6m in 2019.

The researchers put this trend down to a number of factors, including a relatively short summer and high levels of rain, which will have put a damper on BBQ season.

But they ultimately concluded that the biggest contributing factor was the growing popularity of plant-based diets including veganism, vegetarianism and ‘flexitarianism’. Indeed, a £61.9m increase in the sale of ‘meat-free’ lines at supermarkets was recorded over the same period by Nielsen.

Reasons for the transition to a plant-based diet are varied, ranging from concerns to animal welfare, to a desire to improve health or to save money on grocery bills. But amid a backdrop of climate protests – and as scientific research continues to connect land use for animal agriculture to rising emissions – environmental concerns are increasing in prominence as a driving factor.

While questions around whether plant-based diets are a passing fad have been raised, experts ultimately believe the shift is here to stay. Coller Capital’s FAIRR initiative estimates that the global market for alternative plant-based proteins will reach $5.2bn in 2020 and continue to expand at an annual rate of 8.29% thereafter.

Sarah George

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