How to profit as the world goes vegan

Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular and even the fast-food giants are looking to cash in. It looks like veganism might be more than a passing fad. Stuart Watkins reports.

It’s obviously sensible to be careful about what we take into our bodies – the numbers we consume in our daily news, for one. What, for example, are we to make of the titbit from the “Veganuary” campaign that 400,000 people worldwide signed up to its pledge to abstain from eating any animal products for the whole of January, a rise from 250,000 last year?

Be careful of leaping to the obvious conclusion. In the month that has become known in this country as the one to dedicate to vegan and sober living, a chef revealed that a customer had asked for her steak to be well done because she was a “vegetarian”, says Alice Thomson in The Times. Perhaps the rising numbers of people saying they are vegan have little real idea of what that entails and are merely signing up to make a fashion statement that seems less burdensome than “dry January”.

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Indeed, despite the rising popularity of plant-based diets, British slaughterhouses are still killing more animals for meat every year to supply the overseas market, reports The Independent. Government figures show that almost 28.8 million farm animals were killed for meat in 2019, a 5.4% increase in two years.

The trouble with veganism, as Benedict Spence in City AM points out, is that it is “an effort to normalise and promote” an extremist ideology. The effort is doomed to failure. The idea that we should restrain our appetites in the pursuit of ethical goals, including that of living in a sustainable way that does minimal harm to the planet and to the other animals that live on it, is a noble one. Veganism, however, doesn’t preach restraint, but the “permanent” denial of a “healthy, pleasure-inducing facet of life” in a move towards “puritan control”. “Normal people” will see the whole Veganuary fad and the attempts by food companies to launch new vegan products to “cash in on this social movement for what they are: marketing gimmicks”.

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Exhibit A: Greggs. The high-street purveyor of greasy snacks with more than 2,000 shops nationwide saw year-on-year sales rise by 13.5% after it launched its vegan sausage roll early in 2019. This was the result of a “savvy PR” campaign to cash in on the rising popularity of Veganuary, says Christine Ro of the BBC. Greggs knew its new product would make a splash if launched in January, so its PR team wrapped the snack in faux iPhone packaging, invited journalists to taste it and created a “comically over-the-top promotional film”.

Chat-show host Piers Morgan tweeted his outrage at the “PC-ravaged clowns” who had come up with the idea, but the social-media backlash, including a “cheeky counter-attack” by Greggs’ PR team, only provided yet more good advertising for the chain. Indeed, conspiracy theorists claimed that Morgan had teamed up with the company with the intention of drumming up more attention for the product.

Still, savvy PR or not, when even fast-food giants such as KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King are busy launching vegan products, and seeing sales exceed expectations, it would be hard to deny that something is going on...

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