How the consumer is redefining January

After the advertising season that is Christmas, we arrive into January with the wellbeing and fitness industry swinging into full flow advertising endless detox and fitness programmes for us to enjoy. We as consumers being expertly manoeuvred from one campaign to another. However this year it seems there is a new influencer on the block and this one is very much consumer driven.

Veganuary began 2018 in force, over 120,000 people have signed up this year and the Facebook community has over 181,000 members. These numbers and the ongoing growth of veganism has made the food industry take action with new products and marketing campaigns being launched. All the supermarkets have responded by launching their own vegan brands. But Veganism and Veganuary is not a simple market for the marketing industry.

For a start, Veganuary is a divisive movement (it shouldn’t be, but it is). It’s emotional, moral and political and this makes it both powerful and limited. Many non Veganuarians find it irritating, some get very defensive about their own food choices. It makes for an interesting marketing dissection – how can you promote, enhance and engage with vegans, without alienating and losing your non vegan customers (who are still the bigger consumer group). It’s a proper branding dilemma.

Thinking of the new vegan meals in our supermarkets, most are actually just good healthy balanced meals that anyone might enjoy, but will the vegan tag put off non-vegans buying these products? As one of the many Veganuarians, I have discovered that many ‘normal’ products just happen to be vegan, cream crackers and bourbon biscuits to name two. Oh, the joy of this discovery, and despite not having eaten bourbons for years I am now probably their top buyer, just because I can. But I can see that rebranding them as vegan would be a nonsense and would probably lose them customers.

Then there is the labelling of products as ‘fake meat’ we have vegan bacon, meat free ‘chicken pies’; meatless meatballs etc… Who is the target market for these products? Is it vegans? Or is it targeted to meat eaters to encourage them to eat less meat? Personally, I don’t want to buy something that is trying to be meat and I avoid buying these brands, so it bemuses me as to who these brands are actually targeting.

Is it possible for brands to please everybody in their marketing and advertising? There is still much work to be done to convince the population at large that vegan doesn’t have to mean tasteless or overpriced (remember the M&S Cauliflower steak fiasco). Although the bigger piece of work is to find a way to enable vegans, veggies, meat eaters, fish eaters to be incorporated into campaigns that don’t exclude or preclude each other shopping and eating in the same places.

There is one company that I think has won in this category and surprisingly it’s Costa Coffee. Their current radio advert is promoting their new coconut milk coffees and in the same ad also keeping their core customers happy with offers on egg muffins and bacon rolls. Whatever your stance on eggs or bacon, it was a balanced advert and may just have gained them customers without alienating anyone.

Is this marketing dilemma just for January? It will be interesting to track how the brands continue their development on the wings of Veganuary. How will the summer BBQ marketing campaigns look? The Dairy industry are trying to win back support with their #Februdairy campaign, but this seems doomed to fail purely due to bad timing. It’s like launching a diet campaign on boxing day, too soon. However, it’s a clear sign that the food industry is trying to figure out what to do next – the lines between food choices have been drawn. It makes for an interesting year ahead.