Record 500,000 people pledge to eat only vegan food in January

A record 500,000 people have signed up to the Veganuary challenge to eat only plant-based foods for a month. The milestone is double the number who pledged to go vegan for January in 2019.

A quarter of those taking up the challenge – 125,000 – are in the UK, and this year British supermarkets including Tesco have run television and radio adverts promoting Veganuary for the first time. Other supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda and Iceland have produced dedicated pages including information and recipes in 2021, again for the first time.

New research from the investment bank UBS on plant-based alternatives to meat, such as veggie burgers and sausages, shows a rising number of people are trying the new products. The proportion of people who have tried the alternatives rose from 48% to 53% between March and November 2020, according to UBS’s survey of 3,000 consumers in the UK, US and Germany. It also found that half of those who try plant-based alternatives to meat continue to eat them at least weekly.

Veganuary is a global campaign that has recently focused on Latin America, where 150,000 people have signed up this year, along with 80,000 in the US and 50,000 in Germany.

People give a number of reasons for choosing to cut the amount of animal foods in their diets, from reducing animal suffering, improving health or to lessen the environmental damage caused by food production. Many people in rich countries already eat more meat than is healthy, and scientists say cutting out meat is the single best way individuals can tackle the climate and wildlife crises.

“It really feels to me that plant-based eating is no longer controversial,” said Toni Vernelli from Veganuary. “Pretty much everyone has accepted we need to be reducing animal products in our diets for environmental reasons.”

“The way British supermarkets have embraced Veganuary this year is truly game-changing,” she said. “They are not simply using it as a marketing opportunity, but are promoting the many benefits of plant-based eating. As bastions of our food supply, they know that the only sustainable way forward is plant-focused.”

Vernelli highlighted a message about animal welfare on Aldi’s website: “Eating less meat or avoiding animal products altogether is often a really transparent way to show you want to make a difference.” Vernelli also noted that Marks & Spencer had produced a 31-day Veganuary meal plan.

“The latest iteration of our survey shows that plant-based meat continues to gain momentum,” said Andrew Stott at UBS. But he said taste was the key issue for many people: “Of those consumers not willing to try plant-based meat at this time, 59% stated, ‘I don’t think it will taste good’.” Other reasons included not liking the “highly processed nature” of the products (37%) and the expense (29%).

However, half of the people in the UBS survey said they believed the plant-based meat alternatives were healthier and more environmentally friendly than meat.

Dozens of companies around the world are also working on growing real meat cells in vats without the need to slaughter any animals. The first sale of cultured meat took place recently in Singapore, where Eat Just’s “chicken bites” were served to restaurant diners. But it is expected to be at least several years before cultured meat reaches a wide market.