When it comes to behaviour change campaigns, Veganuary is smashing it

By Gayatri Koshy, Head of mHealth

Just a few years ago, veganism was seen as unconventional. Indelibly linked to alternative ‘hippy’ lifestyles, it was viewed with a degree of suspicion by many, and panic by anyone cooking for vegan guests.

Not anymore.

Veganism has gone mainstream. And that’s due, in no small part, to the success of Veganuary.

Since it started in 2014, Veganuary has been steadily growing. 2021’s campaign was the largest to date – over half a million (582,538) people across 209 countries signed up. That’s a jump of over 100% since 2019. And the organisers estimate that for every one person who signs up, another 10 will give vegan eating a go.

This isn’t just grassroots activism. In 2021, 57 major companies took on the Veganuary Workplace Challenge, including accountancy firm PWC, media giant Bloomberg and retailer Tesco.

Why is Veganuary now so successful? The Behavioural Insight Team’s EAST framework can help to explain.

EAST combines elements of behavioural economics and psychology to understand and influence behaviour change. And suggests that if you want to encourage a behaviour, you must make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

Veganuary does it all.

Make it Easy

It’s proven that if you make a behaviour easy to adopt, people are more likely to do it.

Going vegan used to require serious effort. Ingredients were hard to source and eating out was a major challenge. But due partly to the Veganuary team’s support for brands, manufacturers and retailers, the landscape has changed completely

Fast forward to the 2020s and alt-meat and dairy substitutes are on the rise, with investors pouring billions into new plant-based products. For example, at the end of 2020, Cadbury launched its Plant Bar – basically, Dairy Milk without the dairy. And Veganuary 2022 kicked off with the arrival of the much-anticipated vegan Babybel cheese.

Supermarket product managers have gone into overdrive, expanding their vegan ranges. Tesco was named the best UK supermarket in 2020 for vegans, offering a staggering total of 76 own-brand plant-based alternatives. And the UK’s other big supermarkets aren’t far behind.

Meanwhile, restaurants and food chains are also in on the act. In 2021, 259 new vegan menus were added to chain restaurants.

Make it Attractive

This is all about getting your audience’s attention. Once again, Veganuary’s collaboration with big business has paid huge dividends, allowing it to benefit from marketing clout, and budget, way beyond its own capabilities.

Veganuary’s End of Campaign report of 2021 details how one of the campaign’s biggest achievements of 2021 was getting all of Britain’s major supermarkets involved. For the first time ever, Tesco ran TV and radio ads championing Veganuary and others including Aldi, Asda and Iceland created dedicated webpages providing vegan recipes, information and support.

Motivation is also key here. Veganism used to be primarily focused on concerns about animal welfare, but increasingly, personal health and environmental sustainability are cited as benefits. And the fact there are more reasons to try veganism means the campaign can capture a wider audience. Which leads us nicely on to…

Make it Social

Much of Veganuary’s success lies in the social media buzz it has created. At the end of January 2021, the hashtag #Veganuary had over 170 million views on TikTok alone, while the mainstream media published over 1,500 stories. This wraparound coverage not only raises awareness but also makes veganism seem less niche and more mainstream. In turn, this means it’s much easier to change behaviour.

But there are also other behaviour change techniques at play here. Essentially Veganuary is a pledge programme. It rests on the idea that when a person pledges to do something, even if it’s only telling one other person, they are more likely to go through with it. Other behaviour change interventions have successfully used this technique. For example, efforts to encourage people to reduce their alcohol intake or adhere to medication.

Make it Timely

If you prompt people when they’re most receptive, they’re more likely to act. January is a ripe opportunity as so many people vow to make changes to their lives. Bloated and sluggish from Christmas over-eating, the idea of cutting out meat and dairy for a month is a much more appealing prospect.

A month-long commitment also seems more doable than an indefinite one. The jury is still out as to whether pledging to change your behaviour for a month can result in long-lasting change. However, it’s plausible to assume that people who have tried veganism for a month are more likely to commit to a permanent lifestyle choice than individuals who have never tried it. And there’s no doubt that the number of vegans in the UK – currently around 2 million – is growing.

Happy Veganuary all!

Gayatri is the Head of mHealth at Thrive. With a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, she has extensive experience working in global health projects as well as national level programmes such as India’s National AIDS Control Programme.

Here at Thrive, we work with brands, partner agencies, governments and charities who want to transform lives and societies for good.

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Christopher, A. et al. (2018) Portraits of veganism: A comparative discourse analysis of a second-order subculture. Societies. 8 (3), 55–76.

Duckett DG et al. (2021) Amplification without the event: the rise of the flexitarian. Journal of Risk Research, 24:9, 1049-1071, https://doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2020.1800066

Garden of Life (2021) https://www.gardenoflife.co.uk/blog/your-health/vegan-meal-supermarket-options/

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Statista (2021) Veganism and vegetarianism in the United Kingdom – statistics & facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/7297/veganism-in-the-united-kingdom/#dossierKeyfigures

Veganuary (2021) Veganuary 2021 Campaign in Review. https://veganuary.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Veganuary-2021-Campaign-in-Review.pdf

Veganuary (2022) https://veganuary.com/

Wood, Z (2022) ‘ Veganuary set to pass 2m milestone as more firms join movement’, The Guardian, 1 Jan 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/jan/01/veganuary-set-to-pass-2m-milestone-as-more-firms-join-movement

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