The month of resolutions and abstinence is almost over. The small percentage of Brits who endured January sans animal-derived foods and ingredients, however, should perhaps be praised.

And why’s that? Aside from new year’s resolutions typically going down the can by the second week of January, many of those who vow to abstain from all meat and dairy products fail to finish Veganuary. It’s a difficult task, according to recent consumer research.

It’s not to say Brits aren’t keen to try a meat and dairy-free lifestyle. It appears they just can’t hack and sustain such a big lifestyle change for 31 days.

Veganuary’s popularity has grown, yet 72% of UK adults fail to complete the mission, 45% believe there is too much pressure to go all vegan all at once and 42% say it’s too difficult to go meat and dairy-free in January, data from dairy alternative maker Pure claimed.

Conversely Veganuary’s once less exciting sibling, Dry January, has seen a popularity uptick in 2024, with sales of low & no-alcohol drinks in pubs and supermarkets nearly a quarter up this month, and the expectation they’ll rise further this year.

Vegan products launched in Veganuary 2024

So why has it become easier to quit booze for a month and harder to be vegan? The simple argument is education and cost. Alcohol isn’t a necessity and not buying it will save consumers money, whereas buying meat and dairy alternatives can end up costing more.

The challenge of going vegan in January began in 2014. Co-founded by Matthew Glover, it gained in popularity and has, according to The Vegan Society, continued to attract a large global following.

Supermarkets, along with fmcg food and drink manufacturers, seeing a strong sales opportunity, jumped on the trend by giving more space to vegan NPD during the period.

Veganuary 2024 has been no different. A plethora of launches from big and small-name brands hit the shelves of major retailers in time for its start. Ben & Jerry’s, Walkers and Beyond Meat, to name a few, all launched new meat and dairy-free products and variants for Veganuary.

Analysis of Assosia data by The Grocer, however, shows the Veganuary hype was subdued in parts of the category this year, with 71 fewer meat-free products launched on the big four retailers’ shelves – 617 last year versus 546 this January.

Further, plant-based has struggled to maintain its throughput, particularly last year when sales plummeted and the big supermarkets pulled branded ranges and demarked shelf space previously dedicated to the category.

Is a vegan diet healthier?

Yet consumers are being urged by media, influencers, celebrities and even the government to cut down or cull their intake of animal-derived products. Pure’s data shows consumers believe eating a plant-based diet or reducing meat and dairy consumption is better for the planet, with one in six being influenced to do so by social media.

One recent mass-market push came from Netflix’s You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment serialisation of a Stanford Medicine-led trial, a docuseries that compared the potential health benefits of vegan and omnivorous diets.

In the original study, participants on the vegan diet experienced improved cardiovascular health, the result of reduced lipoprotein cholesterol levels, insulin and weight loss, which was replicated among participants in the Netflix series.

However, the docuseries was criticised for, among other reasons, being biased towards veganism, showing a restricted view of a vegan diet, oversimplifying healthy diets and not fully explaining what a healthy omnivore diet is. 

So, what’s the solution for a sustainable Veganuary or increasing the uptake of plant-based diets? Clearly consumers need a better plant-based diet education. Replacing everything, like for like, with an alternative can be costly and sometimes worse nutritionally, making it unsustainable for a month, never mind permanently. Pure senior brand manager Alexandra Moston advocates small swaps throughout the year instead of going all-in for one month.

And when compared to Dry January, the argument for Veganuary isn’t as clear cut. Products dense in calories, fat, salt and sugars don’t support the health argument, while those manufactured overseas work against the sustainability argument. Dry January’s sales pitch is simple: “A total body and mind reset. From better sleep and a mental health boost, to saving money and time.”