Veganuary and Its Effect on the Supply Chain

As we near the end of January - the month of consumer veganism - Daniel Ball, Business Development Director at Wax Digital takes a look at the other side of the coin - the supply chain.

Veganuary describes a coordinated campaign, led by a group of vegan and vegetarian advocates, who have challenged consumers to eat a plant-based diet throughout the entire month of January; entirely free of meat.

However, many people going vegan simultaneously can cause problems for supply and demand of plant-based food. What causes these issues and how can supply chain professionals in the food and beverage sector seek to resolve them if the trend is set to continue throughout the year and beyond?

Why Are People Giving Up Meat?

Led by Veganuary, the registered charity based in the UK, US and Australia, the organisation has challenged meat eaters to alter their eating habits throughout January.

Their site mentions these four reasons for giving up meat for the month:

  • To end animal suffering
  • To improve your overall health
  • To protect the environment from harm
  • To get a more nutritious diet

If the numbers reported by The Guardian are anything to go by, approximately 250,000 people, in over 193 countries, have taken part in the Veganuary challenge. And with vegan food options becoming cheaper, tastier and more convenient, uptake of plant-based food and drink is set to increase.

Besides Veganuary, becoming a vegan is on the increase in the UK, according to research from online publication The Grocer. Their study says 12% of Brits do not eat meat, which increases to 18% when narrowing to 25-34-year-olds. With almost one in five millennials not eating meat, and considering their purchasing power is increasingly shaping the market, supermarkets are scrambling to increase their range of plant-based foods - and in some cases - placing meat-free alternatives on display with meat itself.

Supply Chain Challenges

An increased appetite for vegan food is putting pressure on supply chains linked to the food and hospitality industry. This is being felt by farmers in particular as meat and dairy consumption is declining according to research by OneGreenPlanet.

The study claims that in the US, consumption of red meat dropped by 15% in 2015. In addition, the same research piece goes on to state that the average American uses about 37% less milk than they did in 1970 with alternatives such as soy or almond milk favoured.

Considering the above, and an increase in new vegans as a result of Veganuary, what can you do to ensure you gain access to a steady stream of vegan-friendly goods?

Our Top Four Vegan-Related Supply Management Tips

1 - Ask your prospective suppliers ethical-related questions

Vegan consumers are hyper-aware of what goes into their food and where it is sourced from. It pays for you to do your due diligence and ask your supplier all the right questions at the request for proposal (RFP) stage.

For instance, are any animals harmed in the production of their vegan produce? And is their food and/or drink regularly tested to avoid contamination of animal products in vegan goods?

If you do not ask these questions and appropriately vet (no pun intended) your suppliers, you could find yourself in hot water, much like Sainsburys and Tesco did when The Food Standards Agency (FSA) investigated claims that traces of pork and turkey were found in some of their vegan goods.

2 – Monitor market trends

Hindsight is always 20/20 – but Veganuary is an event that has taken place every year for quite some time now. As such, it is possible to project market trends and requirements. According to research from The Vegan Society there are about 540,000 vegans in the UK – three and a half times more than there were in 2006. But why has veganism grown so aggressively in the UK?

Digital marketing experts put it down to impact influencer marketing has had on our society, with Instagram-savvy celebrities such as Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus well-known for their animal-free diets. Diving into Google search data shows a dramatic increase for searches around ‘veganism’, so it is well worth utilising these tools to monitor market trends in tandem with whatever other tools you use.

3 – Consider regional differences

Not all vegan populations are equal - with wide-ranging differences in consumer behaviour, depending on where you live in the UK.

For those that live in London 19.7% do not eat any meat in their diet according to the aforementioned report from The Grocer. Elsewhere in the UK, except for Wales, meat avoiders make up between 10% and 12% of those surveyed.

Using this data, you can plan your procurement activities appropriately. You will likely need more supplies of vegan food and drink for those living in and around the London area. As such, ordering additional stock to meet demand would be prudent. Could it be worth renegotiating a deal with your supplier to tackle vegan requirements in London and Wales?

4 – Question whether your supplier can meet your vegan good needs

Is your current supplier the right fit for your business? It has been widely reported that such is the threat veganism poses to the existing structure of agriculture, some farmers are entirely abandoning livestock farming entirely. Jay Wilde is one high-profile example, who famously gave away almost his entire herd of cattle. He did it to stop his beloved bovines from being sent to slaughter and transformed his farm to focus on wheat production for bread instead.

Is your supplier well-versed in growing sustainable vegan food? Have they been doing it for long enough to have an aptitude for the process? And is it something they’re just trying to do to make a quick buck?

Veganism Isn’t Likely To Go Away

We do not think veganism is likely to disappear anytime soon. While Veganuary has offered a surge in people seeking to try the diet, in the long term, we expect the diet to be adopted by more and more people.

As baby boomers influence on the market wanes, and as millennials continue to exert their considerable power on markets, politics and much more, we believe a rise in veganism is set to continue.

The question is – is the supply chain ready for the challenges, and opporunities?


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First Voice

  1. Jason Busch:

    I think there are A LOT of people who are vegan (or 99% vegan) primarily for non-ethical reasons as well. My wife and I fall into this camp. We would argue it is as important for consumers and businesses to inquire more deeply (for plant-based ingredient or products) about the certifications and provenance (e.g., don’t touch non-GMO soy, think twice about a Chinese organic certification and whether it’s “like for like”, safety (e.g., container lining for cans), etc.) as much as simply whether a supply chain is plant based or not. I know we think about these questions. To take the ethical route alone is to dismiss a large percentage of people who have become vegan to improve their health as a primary emphasis. For us, we care about other supply chain information.

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