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Tabitha Brown, a small-town North Carolina native turned vegan influencer, grew up eating whatever was put in front her, which sometimes included squirrel, turtle and opossum.
“Don’t judge me, OK?” she laughs during one of her refreshingly candid social media videos.
Brown, who recalls thinking veganism was only for white people, hard-core animal activists and “the cool kids,” won’t guilt you either—but she’ll lovingly nudge you to give up meat and dairy products. And if you only succeed in going vegan-ish, well, that’s a start.
Brown, whose social following is now 9 million strong, is the face of Veganuary, a movement that encourages people to go vegan for a month. The program has spent the past seven years embedding itself into the popular consciousness in the U.K., eventually spreading from Britain to 192 countries.
It arrived stateside last year with some high-wattage Hollywood backing—including A-list activists like Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone and Natalie Portman—and became a buzz-worthy New Year’s resolution.
With its recent second-year kickoff, it’s growing rapidly, linking with nearly 100 brands like Costco, Yelp, Robeks, Albertsons and Nestle, adding Brown to its list of celebrity evangelists and signing up 80,000 American participants, nearly a 50% jump from 2020.
The nonprofit group behind the program, which continues to expand globally, has topped 500,000 sign-ups for 2021, the largest-ever audience of consumers pledging to go vegan for the month and potentially beyond.
“In year two, we’re seeking to broaden our reach by bringing in a wider range of brands, retailers and restaurants,” said Wendy Matthews, Veganuary’s U.S. director.
As a centerpiece of the launch, Brown stars in a technicolor 40-second video that shows her eating a variety of plant-based dishes while, pardon the meat pun, hamming it up. She accidentally gets a little extra protein in her meal, from a pesky insect, leading into the tagline, “Nobody’s perfect. Let’s try anyway.”
Brown, an actor who was named PETA’s person of the year in 2020, “embodies the spirit of Veganuary—warm, welcoming, empowering and non-judgmental,” Matthews said.
Her video has racked up more than 580,000 views across digital platforms, while Veganuary has been trending on TikTok with 77 million video views.
The flexitarian wave
A free-to-join program, Veganuary targets consumers who may be tentative about going vegan full-time but are willing to test the waters with a short-term trial. The timing is good, given the plant-based food boom in the U.S.
Consumers have cited health, animal welfare and environmental concerns, in that order, as motivation for giving up meat and dairy in January, according to Kantar research from 2019’s Veganuary U.K. participants. (Those stats closely mirror the reasons that U.S. consumers have given for switching to more plant-based foods during the pandemic).
The majority of Veganuary fans around the world identify as omnivores, the group’s data shows. Stateside, omnivores (53%) and flexitarians (36%) far outnumber vegans (3%), pescatarians (3%) and vegetarians (5%), according to researcher Packaged Facts, and are coveted demos for fast-growing brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Oatly and Just Egg. (Some estimates peg flexitarians at 70% of the U.S. population, fueled by the coronavirus crisis, meat shortages and Covid-19 outbreaks in slaughterhouses).
Brand bonanza, ‘bigger than Christmas’
Veganuary has gathered nearly 100 brands in the U.S.—up from 35 in the first year—that are offering free plant-based side dishes (Mendocino Farms), discounts on juices, salads and smoothies (Robeks, Just Salad), editorial content (Costco’s monthly circular), recipe guides (Hellmann’s), and Veganuary-themed menu items (Veggie Grill).