Veganuary predicts biggest year as Covid lockdown inspires diet overhaul

Vegetarian Lasagne

Organisers of Veganuary are gearing up for their biggest ever year next month since the meat-free pledge was launched seven years ago, thanks to a surge in consumers tucking into more plant-based foods during lockdown and greater concern about health and the environment.

The UK-based campaign, which since 2014 has asked people to pledge to follow a diet free of animal products in January, has set a target of 500,000 signatories worldwide and expects to reach 350,000 by Tuesday.

A record 400,000 people signed up to the campaign last year, compared with 250,000 participants in 2019 and 170,000 in 2018.

This year the bosses of large UK and multinational companies – including Nestlé – are backing the campaign on health grounds and urging their workforces to do the same.

Marco Settembri, the chief executive of Nestlé (Europe, Middle East and north Africa) said: “A well-planned plant-based diet can meet nutritional needs during all stages of life while there are environmental and health benefits too.

“This year I am passing the baton and encouraging all employees to participate in Veganuary and sign up to the challenge. I am happy to be part of this movement as it grows across Europe and beyond.”

Among other large companies whose leadership teams are supporting the campaign are the leading accountancy firms PwC and EY, the media company Bloomberg, Marks & Spencer and the UK’s largest meat-free brand, Quorn.

Philip Watson, Quorn’s UK and Europe commercial director, said: “Our purpose is to provide healthy food for people and the planet and by backing Veganuary 2021, we aim to get closer to our 2030 target of 8bn meat-free servings a year worldwide.”

April Preston, the director of product development at Marks & Spencer, said the retailer would be further expanding its vegan own-label Plant Kitchen range.

“The M&S food leadership team is getting fully involved and will be creating a series of fun, weekly videos that we will be sharing internally, comparing different Plant Kitchen products and their meat equivalents and finding out which comes top,” she said.

Even before the pandemic UK manufacturers, supermarkets, restaurants and pub chains were scrambling to tap into not only the burgeoning vegan market but also the large number adopting “flexitarian” diets – people who enjoy meat and dairy but want to eat less of it.

Lockdown has forced consumers to cook more from scratch as a result of restaurant closures, and pay closer attention to their diet.

On Friday, vegan sausage rolls and steak bakes from the bakery chain Greggs will go on sale exclusively in the frozen cabinets of Iceland, while the Domino’s Pizza chain is about to add its first meat-alternative pizza – the Chick-Ain’t – and southern-fried vegan nuggets to its vegan-friendly range.

The plant-based meat company Moving Mountains is launching vegan fish fingers made from white soy, with a flaky fish-like texture that aims to replicate the real thing.

Meanwhile, the Co-op convenience chain, named by Kantar as the fastest-growing UK retailer for plant-based food and drink sales, will double the number of pies and meals in its GRO range.

The Veganuary charity started modestly six years ago in York at the kitchen table of its founders, Jane Land and Matthew Glover, and initially attracted just 3,300 supporters.

Teaming up with the York chef and restaurateur Adam Lyons, Glover has this month provocatively unveiled a vegan fried chick*n company called VFC, which he hopes will expose mass meat production and “a system that has brought us climate change, environmental destruction, factory farming and slaughterhouses”.