When Pret A Manger acquired EAT in May, it caused quite a sensation. This was no ordinary private equity investment. Pret announced that its plan is to convert as many of EAT’s shops as possible into “Veggie Prets”, citing the sharp rise in demand for vegetarian and vegan meal options as its reason.
Is Pret onto something?
This year, 250,000 people registered to take part in Veganuary, in which one pledges to give up all animal-based products for January. Though the numbers don’t account for those who went vegan in the new year without registering on the site, nor how many actually stuck to the pledge, the number is impressive. Particularly, that is, when you compare it against the 168,000 registered pledgers in 2018, and – even more impressively – with the modest 3,300 figure in 2014. Simultaneously, Google Trends noted a spike in ‘vegan’ related searches between December 30 and January 5.
The number of identified UK vegans has risen from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018. What’s more, almost half of all UK vegans made the change in 2018, with 60% having done so in the last five years. A survey by Finder.com projects that the UK’s population of vegans will rise by 327% by 2020.
Over in the States, plant-based foods are skyrocketing in popularity though, as noted in analysis from NPD, this doesn’t mean that US consumers are giving up meat.
So what’s driving this shift?
Social media has had a huge influence on converting us over to the plant side. As Giles Quick, director at market researcher Kantar Worldpanel told the BBC, “Social media has brought it to the forefront of customers’ minds, and the mainstream. It’s not seen any more as a choice for life, but as a choice for one meal, one moment, for one or two days a week.”
Social media has, of course, made us more aware of the impact of a carnivorous diet than ever before, with content about animal cruelty in the meat and dairy industries, environmentalism and health concerns bandied about the major social platforms with increasing velocity. 80% of people now know someone who is either vegetarian or vegan.
It’s also now easier to eat vegan. In fact, 90% of people surveyed by The Vegan Society say it’s easier to find vegan food now than ten years ago. A combination of social media driving a wave of new acceptability and education, and food outlets and supermarkets being quick to rise to the occasion, has together caused a massive paradigm shift.
We analysed a brand set comprising of 20 of the best performing restaurant brands in the UK. This set covers, incidentally, more towards niche, artisan and upmarket eateries than typical high-street, chain brands. Overall, there’s been a positive increase across key metrics over the last 12 months, though the UK market for both vegan and non-vegan offerings has not been performing as well as the broader global market. This, however, isn’t a massive surprise, given the infancy of the market.
On social, we’ve observed positive sentiment to be generally high, although both in the UK and globally, it has reduced consistently by -8.6 over the last year. This applies to eating out generally, but in the vegan sector in particular. This is likely due to greater scrutiny and media exposure, which is typical in a phase of growth where consumer attention is high.
Social media has a way of turning marginal ideas into cultural zeitgeists. So, whilst keeping one eye closely trained on the sustainable and cruelty-free food market, investors would do well to keep analysing what’s coming up on Instagram and Twitter. For example, it’s not just vegan food that’s trending, the Fashion and Beauty industry is flying the flag for saying goodbye to animal products, as well. In 2018, 82% of new vegan items launched in the UK came from the Beauty sector (40% in the US; 62% in Germany). Footwear, however, seems to be the one to watch, with vegan shoes comprising 16% of the total UK market last year – another area that’s rising year on year.
Veganism forms part of a wider movement towards ‘doing good’. Environmental concerns are at an all-time high, as are issues related to social justice, such as #MeToo-era feminism, trans rights, and racial equality. And where there is a movement, there is a market. So put your best foot forward – the money is to be found in building a brighter future.