George Roberts, client services director at Five by Five, examines how brands can make their vegan product launches more than a gimmick

With the likes of Greggs, Costa and Dum Dum Donutterie all making waves this Veganuary, it does make you wonder: how did we get here, and how much further can we take it?

First, you have to take stock of what has actually been achieved. In the wider fast-food landscape, look at KFC. Just three years ago, it masterfully trolled everyone with its spoof ‘clean-eating’ burger. Yet, last month, KFC released a vegan burger. What was once a farce is now a reality – and even meat-centric brands are homing in on the vegan opportunity.

But is it all a gimmick? No, it’s more than clean-eating. It can be for ethical or environmental reasons – not to mention allergies. But to fully capitalise on the opportunity, brands need to understand that the trend is growing continuously, spurred on by the annual Veganuary sign-ups.

Greggs cottoned on fast, creating a vegan sausage roll finder tool last year, which now works for its new vegan steak bake. This is not a one-off – it’s a genuinely useful tool for customers and, given the two products’ popularity, remains relevant year-round. It can also be updated to find new iterations of the bakery giant’s vegan range.

So, how do new vegan brands sustain that momentum?

First, an event like Veganuary is a chance to launch – not an excuse. If a bakery rushes to deliver a new line of healthy baked goods to ride the ‘new year, new me’ boom, certain things will be overlooked. Perhaps NPD isn’t as thorough as necessary, or the launch is rushed, just to push the product out. That will not create a memorable, lasting relationship with customers – especially when you have established names like Nāk’d, Greggs and more creating genuine connections through engaging launch campaigns.

With Veganuary 2020 in the rear-view mirror,  just 3% of the population identify as vegan. But with some citing climate and health concerns as the reason for reducing their meat and dairy intake, it would be naive to suggest these new products are exclusively for vegans.

Yet the health motivation also needs considering. As the vegan discourse centres increasingly around health benefits, will brands’ sugar-packed meat substitutes cut the mustard further down the line?

Free-from isn’t going anywhere, and if bakery brands and products want to muscle in on that, then they must consider a fully costed and planned launch strategy that lasts way beyond the day of launch. Otherwise, they’ll never make it past the novelty phase.