Innovation for Veganuary: Six Plant-Power Trends for 2021

Innovation for Veganuary: Six Plant-Power Trends for 2021

A staggering 540,000 people globally have signed up to Veganuary this year, with the event being the biggest since the pledge began.

The annual challenge, to only eat plant-based foods throughout the first month of the year, started in the UK in 2014 and has helped make veganism more visible and accessible to consumers across the globe.


There is no doubt that Covid-19 has been a key factor in driving numbers of those pledging to commit to 31 days of meat-free eating, Veganuary. A new poll commissioned by vegan charity Viva Campaigns (conducted earlier this month) highlighted that 85% of Britons want a ban on intensive farming methods amid concerns over deadly viruses.


As a result of growing awareness of the effects of eating meat on animal welfare, the environment and people’s health and wellbeing, the meat-free food market expected to have sales in excess of £1.1bn in the UK by 2024 (according to Mintel research).


A quarter of people taking the Veganuary challenge are UK-based, and several UK retailers this year are backing it, with Tesco runningTV and radio adverts promoting Veganuary for the first time. Aldi, Iceland and Asda have also dedicated website pages to Veganuary (including recipes and information), for the first time as well, with Marks & Spencer offering a31-day Veganuary meal plan and Morrisons launching a £25 Veganuary Essentials box “filled with much-loved vegan favourites to help give your January a kick-start”.By supporting the campaign, retailers are helping to promote many benefits of plant-based eating, and Toni Vernelli, Head of Communications at Veganuary comments: “The way British supermarkets have embraced Veganuary this year is truly game-changing”.


Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a rising number of consumers have been consuming plant-based foods and beverages. Numbers have risen from 48% to 53% between March and November 2020, (according to a survey by UBS of 3,000 consumers in the UK, US and Germany). Interestingly, Mintel sites that women are more likely than men to limit/reduce their meat consumption (42% compared to 36%) and a survey found that half of those who try plant-based alternative continue eating them at least once per week.


People give numerous motives for selecting to cut animal foods from their diets during Veganuary. According to the Veganuary website, these reasons include: reducing animal cruelty (37%) improving their health (38%), lessening environmental damage caused by the production of meat (18%) and “other” (7%). A wide range of celebrities openly support of the campaign, including actor Joaquin Phoenix, comedian Sara Pascoe, TV presenter Chris Packham and musician Paul McCartney who comments “We’re all trying to make the world a bit better, so why not sign up, take part, give it a go and see how you feel? It could be the best thing you ever did.”

Given the above points, its unsurprising that new product development has been booming in the plant-based sector, with Innova Market insights highlighting ‘Plant-Forward’ as the ‘Top Trend for 2021’. So what new products are available in 2021 for both experimental and seasoned vegans to try?

On Tuesday August 24th 2020, P&W Partner ,Adrian Whitefoord, was on the judging panel at the Quality Food Awards, specifically for the ‘Vegan’ category. Here’s the lowdown of 6 key trends we expect will evolve and prove to be great successes in the plant-free market throughout 2021, backed by Adrian’s insights based on his 30+ years’ experience in the food industry as creative director at an award-winning design agency, and the recent QFA taste-testing he undertook:

1.   Vegan Cheese

Brits named cheese as the thing they would most struggle to live without if they went vegan (according to a survey commissioned by Elmlea Plant for Veganuary).

To target this demographic, retailers like M&S have launched a new range of cheeses made using coconut oil and brand Willicroft (listed by Whole Foods Market) now have vegan cheese sauce, to be used as a dip or as a sauce for pasta dishes. There are already numerous vegan cheese options available on the market, like Tesco’s Free From Mature Cheddar Alternative Sainsbury’s Cheddar-style slices. Free & Easy, a brand owned by one of P&W’s clients Healthy Food Brands (whom we have worked for on numerous branding and packaging design projects over 20+ years), have offered consumers a dairy-free, wheat-free and gluten-free cheese sauce mix for many years.

Adrian comments:

“I expect that retailers and brands will really spice things up in terms of dairy-free cheese taste and NPDin 2021. Consumers are looking for more than an alternative to a predictable cheddar, they want something to inspire them at mealtimes. As a huge cheese fan, I have to say I was sceptical but at the QFA’s I tasted the Norseland Mexicana Vegan Slices and Bute Island Foods’ Sheese with Garlic & Chives and was impressed by the Norseland’s fiery flavour and the creaminess of Sheese’s herby cheese-alternative to make your lunchtime sandwich more interesting.
I anticipate 2021 will see spicy-cheese variations, fondue alternatives for fun family nights in, sandwich spreads and cheesy pasta sauce mixes to really rival traditional dairy-based cheese products.”

2.   Sweet Baked Treats

Vegan NPD has recently included Tesco Wicked Kitchen’s range of “decedent plant-based treats”, a range of six vegan bakery products that promise to satisfy sweet-toothed consumers. It includes ‘Jazzy Jam Doughnuts’ filled with apple and raspberry jam and a Danish pastry ‘Super Cinnamon Scrolls’. Krispy Kreme also recently launched its first plant-based product in the UK, its original glazed doughnut in vegan-form which is promises to be “equally as delicious as the original”.

Brands such Just Love Food and Bosh! Are offering consumers sweet treats in the form of cakes, but generally it is clear that the sweet, baked, plant-based category is lacking inspiration.

Adrian remarks:

“At the QFA’s I got to try several new vegan sweet treats, including Asda’s Vegan Chocolate Cake by Finsbury Food group and Freaks of Nature Dairy & Gluten Free Bramley Apple Crumble (available at Tesco). I’m more of a crumble fan, so I’d say the latter would be my preference (with a dash of dairy-free custard of course!) but both were tasty and decadent. The crumble has the perfect amount of crumble topping to a deliciously sweet/sharp and fruity centre and was a worthy Winner in the ‘Vegan Desserts and Sweet Treats’ category at the awards.
I definitely expect that own-brand and branded products offering plant-based options will become more wide and varied. They will have to work hard though to ensure their products have no loss of quality or taste versus their traditional counterparts”.

3.   Ready Meals

Despite 2020 providing to be a disappointing sales year for ready meals (as consumers became more involved with cooking meals from scratch), retailers still see opportunity for growth in plant-based meals, for example, M&S’s expanded range of Plant Kitchen meals. Product offerings have become more innovative, with Asda launching its Extra Special Butternut Squash, Aubergine & Edamame Laksa, and Co-op’s Gro Teryaki Mushroom Noodles.

With 84% of all UK ready-meals containing meat, fish or cheese (according to a survey of 2,800 ready-meals by Eating Better), there is definite room for growth in the plant-based sector. Despite Covid-19 reducing our ready-meal consumption, it reports that 2 in 5 people still eat ready meals every week, with 88% of consumers eating ready meals or ready-to-cook foods.

Retailers like Aldi (1%), Co-op (3%), M&S (3%) and Iceland (4%) are highlighted as those that need to “up their game” with their plant-based offerings, with the figures in brackets showing the percentage of ready-meals they sell that are 100% plant-based, versus meat, fish and vegetarian products. Of the “big four” Asda sets the bar high, with a plant-based ready-meal offering of 16% of all ready-meal SKU’s.

Adrian writes:

“Plant-based ready-meal products will definitely become less predictable in 2021, with consumers becoming more experimental and excited by less mainstream ethnic flavours and cuisines. At the QFA’s I tried a variety of ready-meal products, including several by Asda which I was very impressed by, especially its Sweet Potato Katsu Curry (by SK Chilled Foods). I have to say, Asda acquitted itself particularly well at the awards.
With Mindful Chef’s Cashew Chickpea Korma with Black Rice being the Winner in the awards’ ‘Vegan Ready Meals’ category, I think it’s clear that inspired twists on consumer classics will be another driving force behind NPD in this category throughout 2021 and beyond.”

4.   Food to Go

Last year, the food-to-go market lost an eye-watering £8.4bn (according to Kantar) as Brits were in lockdown and working from home. However, retailers are confident that category sales will improve this year, as people are expected to steadily start to venture back into the workplace and get out and about again.

Asda has upped its food-to-go game with a vegan take on its popular Shredded Duck Wrap from its existing range; the ‘Hoisin Duckless Wrap’. It uses soy protein to replicate the duck-flavour with Boots taking a similar stance with its ‘No Duck & Hoisin Wrap’. Aldi has launched a range of vegan ‘Power Bowls’ that it promises to deliver exciting taste profiles. The bowls come in three varieties: Mediterranean, Moroccan Tagine and Katsu Cauliflower.

Adrian remarks:

“I enjoyed the winner of the QFA’s ‘Food to Go’ category; Co-op’s GRO Vegan Chocolate Orange Rocky Road, which will certainly appeal to consumers looking for a midday sugar hit. However, my favourite was Asda’s High Fibre Good & Balanced Box Butternut Squash Falafels, which was actually shortlisted. I have found many falafel products to be dry and bland, but this high-fibre product was moist and tasty.
I envisage in 2021 that the food-to-go market will still take a hit in sales compared to 2019, but that innovative offerings may help entice consumers who are sitting at their desk/ kitchen table at home to swap out their homemade ham sandwich for a tasty lunchtime treat they can eat ‘on the go’, at their desk. Similar to my comments regarding ready-meal offerings, I think inspired twists on ethnic-inspired consumer favourites and fiery, flavourful options will be a big hit, such as a vegan chicken-less tikka wrap with mango chutney and Peri-Peri chicken-style strips with spicy cous-cous.”

5.   Meat and Fish Substitutes

This is a HUGE category for vegan, as countless brands are now offering meat-free, meat-style options. Brands like Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains, Impossible Foods, Naked Glory, Strong Roots and Quorn all offer consumers a wide variety of different options, in a variety of different forms. Whether it be sliced-meat alternative for snacking and sandwich fillers, joint-style cuts of meat to replace the predictable Sunday nut-roast or burgers that resemble the juicy taste of beef but are meat-free, the market is becoming pretty saturated.

Retailers have already begun to offer consumers more inspired, innovative options, such as M&S’s Plant Kitchen No Pork Streaky Facon (which it promises will “sizzle and crisp up just like real bacon”!). Squeaky Bean has recently launched ready-to-eat hot & spicy chicken-style pieces and Quorn has unveiled its Makes Amazing cooking ingredients range to help inspired consumers with their “from scratch” home-cooking.

Tyson Foods Inc, one of the world’s largest food companies recently tasked P&W to help them expand into Europe with their Raised & Rooted brand, a variety of flava-bean and pea based plant-powered products. Initially the brand will be sold through food-service channels, but is also set to launch via retailers later this year. Products include fun, family-orientated products such as chicken-free nuggets and popcorn, tortilla nachos and garlic & herb dipping fries.

Adrian says:

“There’s no doubt that vegan consumers now have plenty of options when it comes to meat-substitutes, but I think consumers are getting savvier when it comes to ascertaining “is this nutritionally better for me?”. Lots of meat-free options on the market actually are very high in salt, calories and fat, this will be a key area for brands and own-brands to focus on in 2021.
At the QFA’s I was able to try Naked Glory Sausages by Kerry Foods, which were, as promised “free of meat, full in taste”and a few of Asda’s products, including its spicy Chorizo Style Sausages by Finnebrogue Artisan (the ‘Vegan Meat and Fish Substitute’ winner, which were much more nutritionally sound than traditional pork versions, and tasted amazing. Throughout 2021, I expect that retailers and brands will look to offer options that the 38% of consumers who site “improving their health” as a key driver for undertaking the Veganuary challenge, will want to purchase."

6.   Special Occasions

For Christmas 2020, P&W designed Tesco’s vibrant Plant Chef range of festive options (pictured here), which included a Mushroom & Meat Free Stuffing Lattice and a Butternut Squash and Mushroom Wreath, among other products.

As pubs, bars and restaurants are being forced to open and close depending on COVID-19 case rates, retailers and brands should look to tap into a large demographic of consumers looking for plant-based restaurant-quality at-home drinking and dining experiences. For consumers looking to purchase special plant-based treats to celebrate special occasions at home, their options currently are very limited.

One example we could find was forward-thinking Dirty Vegan’s plant-based cook-at-home kit called ‘The Ultimate Vegan Comfort Kit’ (at £42, serving two people). The pack comprises a selection of products for the perfect ‘at-home’ restaurant dining experience, and includes two vegan chilli cheeseburgers (by Beyond Meat), vegan cheeses, vegan buns and a variety of elements to ‘pimp’ your burger to your preference.Drinks to accompany the meal include Espresso Medatini and cans of Meda Functional CBD drinks, with dessert being Vida Bakery's Cookie Tho ready-to-bake cookies.

Adrian comments:

“I certainly foresee a focus on innovative, great quality food and drink and references to local provenance to help to engage with an increasing demographic of luxury-focused consumers looking to treat themselves and their loved ones. Special occasions will be a key area of focus, with birthday treats, party foods and little luxuries for various other special occasions, such as anniversaries, which consumers can enjoy eating and drinking together at home. I’m thinking indulgent vegan charcuterie boards, plant-based twists of nostalgic party finger food and fun veggie sliders.”

To summarise our findings, the P&W strategic and creative design team feel that this Veganuary will help inspire tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people to continue to consume plant-based foods as an alternative to meat, whether they continue their journey as flexitarians, pescatarians, vegetarians or vegans. Overall, eating vegan/ plant-based is definitely becoming less “faddy”, better comprehended by consumers and more products are accessible than ever before.

There statistics and market research suggest that as well as ethnic-inspired, innovative food options to help keep the plant-based category fresh and exciting, there will also continue to be everyday ‘staples’ available to purchase, which families can all enjoy together (saving parents and caregivers from having to cook numerous meals!).

We look forward to trying some of the innovative and exciting plant-powered products out for ourselves over the coming months as the P&W team look to sample more plant-powered foods and beverages.

As an award winning design agency with a focus on brand design and packaging design, we’re also excited to see how plant-based packaging evolves to suit the sector’s philosophy as ‘better for the environment’. Will we see more sustainable packaging and eco-friendly packaging in 2021? Adrian’s experience at the Quality Food Awards showed a concerning lack of innovation in this area. Our team welcome the arrival of new plant-based brands and looks forward to the prospect of working on new brand launches and evolutions over the year.

As a full service creative agency, P&W’s creative solutions stem from an understanding of innovative market research, design strategy, branding, 2021 market trends and 2021 packaging innovations. P&W is so much more than just a packaging design agency, we are involved with all facets of bringing a brand to life.

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