Jan 11, 2024
by Karl Smith
Veganuary Is About More Than Food, It’s About Our Sustainable Future
by Karl Smith
Jan 11, 2024

Here at FUTUREVVORLD, we are and always have been about progress; primed and ready to support initiatives that move our world in the right direction. Whether that movement comes as the result of a gentle and suggestive nudge or from a more aggressive, full-blooded shove doesn’t matter – if the intent is good, it’s good with us.

With that in mind, something like Veganuary has always ticked both boxes: the goal has always been to edge people toward thinking more and thinking better about their consumption – mainly in terms of food, but also beyond. The meat industry, though, and its oh-so-avid supporters, have always seen the initiative – which, in reality, is nothing more than a suggestion – as a call to arms against everything it stands for.

When Veganuary – which, for those not in the know, is the simple act of going vegan for the month of January – first launched ten years ago, the animosity was palpable: resistance from purveyors of animal-based food quickly took the line that the best defense is a good offense, doubling down with the usual anti-vegan propaganda.

Now, though, almost a decade on, we’re looking at a different landscape entirely: veganism itself is semi-mainstream and, in the face of climate change and shifting opinions on animal welfare, it has become considerably harder for those same organizations to paint Veganuary as the brainchild of reality-averse hippy-ism. Especially when the initiative is consistently breaking records and chiming with a wider audience, with 2023 having racked up an impressive 700,000 official participants in the month-long event.

Not only that, though, it has become easier – and better for their business – to embrace the thing they once derided. Where, just a few years ago, fast food restaurants were doubling down with bigger, meatier products to counter the threat of a plant-based planet, we now have big-name brands turning out Veganuary products to meet demand. They’ve shifted mentality, en masse it seems, from a misguided “fight fire with fire” approach (there was no real fire to fight in the first place) to something more like, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Bringing in the source of any given problem to help find a solution is as close to accountability as major corporations will likely ever come – though they’d never admit as much.

Some of these have even made it into the permanent offering. The McPlant, for example – the plant-based burger from McDonald’s, which has been a success in the UK but has had dismal take-up in the US – wouldn’t have launched without the push from initiatives like Veganuary, and certainly wouldn’t have evolved last year into an offering which also includes the Double McPlant.

And herein perhaps lies the problem: we have the McPlant, we have the Double McPlant, and we still have a full menu of animal-based products – McDonald’s isn’t bowing to pressure or even changing with the times. It’s just expanding its offering and, in the process, expanding its consumer base.

In short: a successful business is making good business decisions for the sake of its own success. Are we really supposed to applaud that?

Of course, a global corporation like McDonald’s is an easy and obvious target here – they’re an easy target for pretty much anything, after all – but, while they make a useful case study for ease of illustration, they’re far from the only culprit.

In the UK, well-known meat merchants like Richmond have added plant-based sausages and bacon to their arsenal of products. Essentially, everyone is at it. And maybe we don’t owe McDonald’s a standing ovation, but perhaps we do owe other brands a more open and less cynical approach.

This, then, was one of the first questions we put to Matthew Glover – one of the co-founders of Veganuary (and a plant-based food specialist very much in his own right). Glover, it has to be said, remains an optimist and a pragmatist; an activist with an understanding of how the world functions and how we can use its machinations to leverage and affect change.

Having started the whole thing back in 2014 with a simple-in-theory goal of moving things toward “a world without animal farms and slaughterhouses,” and a considerably less straightforward addendum to that of creating “a world where food production does not decimate forests, pollute rivers and oceans, exacerbate climate change and drive wild animal populations to extinction.”

In terms of the role brands can – or should – play in that, Glover comes down firmly on the side of inviting them (and their infrastructure) to make positive contributions. And why not? Bringing in the source of any given problem to help find a solution is as close to accountability as major corporations will likely ever come – though they’d never admit as much.

Veganuary is focused on changing consumer behaviours and attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and as enjoyable as possible throughout the month. Millions of people have registered to try vegan with us since we started in 2014, although data suggests that ten times more people actually participate and try vegan in January each year.

“With so many more new vegans and flexitarians being created, we need brands to join us to shout about new vegan product launches and offers so that new vegans and participants can find the best vegan options and have the best Veganuary experience.

Veganuary is the ideal opportunity post-Christmas to create a one-month campaign activation and brands can focus on their vegan ranges. Last year, over a thousand businesses took part in Veganuary, with most experiencing an increase in sales throughout the month. Veganuary is an incredible marketing tool that can help successfully launch new vegan ranges as well as sell more of their existing vegan range!”

All of which goes some way as to explaining why brands might, themselves, want to get in on Veganuary – to seize an opportunity very much there for the taking – but doesn’t do quite so much to answer the question of their involvement on either an existential, philosophical, or imminent impact level. After all, of the thousand-plus businesses who joined the initiative, offering out new vegan products off the back of heightened public awareness and temporarily increased demand – yes – some of them will be fully plant-based outfits using Veganuary as a launchpad, but others will either be high-impact, meat-first or animal-adjacent businesses looking for an easy path toward growth in a new sector, and others will be joining in for a fixed thirty-one days with no intention of maintaining plant-based progress.

“Whilst it’s true that some products and ranges will disappear from February onwards,” Glover says, “we’re aware that many retain their listing, and that over the years there’s gradually increasing space allocated for plant-based foods on menus and in retailers. Positive change isn’t linear, unfortunately, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

It’s a response evidenced by the recent announcement that Kellog’s has cancelled plans to abandon its plant-based offering, and one which reads as a rough approximation of FUTUREVVORLD’s own philosophy – the notion of Progress Over Perfection; adjusted expectations for a world where we have to take one win at a time or, else, often take nothing at all. And, while Glover’s own expertise is firmly in the food-based world, it’s an opening to ask the vegan veteran his thoughts about the campaign’s effect on the fashion industry – or, at least, what he’d like those effects to be.

“It’s not my area,” Glover begins with the typical humility of someone whose sole purpose is basically changing the world for the better, “but I am seeing increasing awareness of sustainable fashion and footwear in my own feeds. There seems to be a growing acceptance that we collectively need to make better purchasing decisions, especially among the younger generations. I would have thought that cruelty-free fashion and footwear is an easier sell than cruelty-free food to most of society. So, maybe a sustainable fashion month could be a good idea. Let’s call it… Septrendy, or Sustaugust.”

Such an initiative, of course, would raise all the same questions: foremost of which being, “in encouraging the production of planet-first products, how do we ensure that we’re not just encouraging over-production,” or, “how can we ensure that a campaign like this lessens environmental impact?”

What are we to do, other than plough on and keep pushing forward? At the end of the day, surely, more vegan products in your local supermarket or on the menu at your favourite restaurant not only means more options for the converted, but also a further nudge toward normalization.

As ever, it’s a tricky one; given, where Veganuary is concerned, that it’s stores and restaurants bringing in the plant-based products – and doing so on the tails of the official campaign – it’s virtually impossible to create a barrier to entry. Yes, there are official partners – and lots of them – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from getting in on the action; no way to put the brakes on a brand launching a new vegan product in January, without any real connection to the Veganuary movement, and taking advantage of its visibility without meeting its standards.

And this, of course, would be the same with fashion. Or anything, for that matter. But what are we to do, other than plough on and keep pushing forward? When it really comes down to it, surely, more vegan products in your local supermarket or on the menu at your favourite restaurant not only means more options for the converted, but also a further nudge toward normalization.

At the end of the day, as Glover says, “Our mission is to inspire and support people to try vegan, drive corporate change, and create a global mass movement championing compassionate food choices with the aim of ending animal farming, protecting the planet, and improving human health.”

It’s a mission that seems to be working: despite a follower count of just over 5,000, Veganuary’s official TikTok had 894 million views, and an impressive 300 million people engaged via an array of social media channels in January 2023 alone. And, frankly, that’s probably enough to move the needle – even just a little.