Whatever your food and beverage camp of choice this January – Veganuary, Dry January, Tryanuary – you’d be hard pressed to miss the food news of the decade. Buoyed by a growth in vegetarianism and veganism, more big-name food companies have ventured where Greggs bravely landed last year. And the results have been met with a mixed palate of reviews.
The Greggs vegan sausage roll set the stage for how to ride on the back of a food trend and win. In the event you were buried under a large rock at the time, the now iconic marketing campaign took its inspiration from new iPhone launches. All served with a healthy dose of light touch humour and self-deprecation by an inspired social media team. But marketing can only take you so far – the Greggs vegan sausage rolls also tasted very good and have taken pride of shelf place alongside their classic sausage rolls.
Fast forward to 2020, and all of Greggs are enjoying the fruits of their labour, in the shape of £7 million in bonuses paid out to staff. Meanwhile, more fast food brands have jumped on the vegan bandwagon with new products designed to serve a customer base with evolving tastes. Subway launched the Meatless Meatball Marinara, Caffè Nero has vegan croissants and a whole Veganuary menu, and Greggs has made its bid for a larger piece of the pie with its Vegan Steak Bake.
A number of these offerings are January-only promotions. What kicks off as an annual homage to a different way of life, however, has many uses for recipe and product testing. The internet is awash with taste tests and sales will be a useful yardstick of whether the new products have a life longer than a flash in the pan. But feverishly following food fads can also leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth. KFC bypassed the vegetarian option to hone straight in on an original recipe vegan burger with “zero chicken”.
Despite seemingly the best of intentions, KFC has received much attention for all the wrong reasons. There are reports of order mix ups resulting in long-term vegans biting into real chicken, and the same grills and utensils being used to cook them as the regular burgers thereby contaminating them. As for taste – there are mixed reviews. Lastly, but importantly, there is the moral outrage about vegans wanting to frequent an establishment whose business is based on the slaughter of chickens, with KFC an unlikely pawn in the debate between meat, plant and animal love.
For other brands that want to get in on the action, there is a cautionary tale right here. You may want to fling yourself onto a boat before it departs the harbour, and land with a belly flop straight into the sea. Leveraging a trend is the right thing for smart businesses to do, but innovation needs to be authentic to your business model and values, delivered with brand personality. Hatching a plan for when things go wrong, as defeatist as it sounds, will also stop the fallout in its tracks.
Veganuary shines a fresh, bright light on food and drink innovation and product development. As with all innovation, delivered and managed well, it will be easier to stomach.