Merry Vegmas! The social picture of a meat-free Christmas

Thought Leadership

Christmas is approaching and families are planning their festive banquets, searching for inspiration online. Some opt for ready-made showstopper products from supermarket brands, while others amaze guests with their (in)famous Christmas signature dish.

Most online conversations and Google searches relating to Christmas food reach their highest peak of the year a week before the big day. This is the time that brands need to be more switched on than ever to the festive food chatter.

Over the last few years, some clear new trends have arrived and grown in the eating (and cooking) arena. Veganism, vegetarianism, gluten intolerances – people are increasingly looking for inspiration on what to serve on the 25th of December, whatever the dietary requirements round the table happen to be.

Beyond the turkey replacement: a forecast
In a survey conducted by Tesco in its annual Christmas Report, 57% of UK respondents said that satisfying dietary requirements of their guests are the main reason why families are seeking for alternatives to put on the Christmas table. The same report stated that 6% of the nation will opt for a vegetarian/vegan alternative to the classic roast turkey.

And this is reflected in what we’re searching for: in online and social media conversations, people are increasingly more concerned about serving their guests more diverse options such as vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free dishes. This trend is set to continue growing this year.

Vegan trumps veggie
Last Christmas, the UK saw a surge in Google searches for “vegan Christmas” – and for the first time, the search query outpaced “vegetarian Christmas”. Add to this the fact that online social media conversations about ‘vegan Christmas’ have outstripped ‘vegetarian Christmas’ since 2015, and it’s clear that veganism has moved out of its niche status.

And of course, supermarkets and other food brands selling their Christmas wares want to be a part of this, whether it’s promoting new vegan ranges, offering recipes and ideas to satisfy the vegan audience, or those catering for them. In 2018, Tesco was the most talked-about supermarket brand for vegan Christmas products (2,130 online mentions), followed by M&S (1,770 online mentions) and Asda (1,373 mentions). It’s too early to tell yet which brand has performed best in 2019, but the conversation is already starting to appear.

And it’s not just about food. Vegan wine and booze are also important for this community. In 2018, conversations about vegan wine and alcohol consumed and researched for Christmas increased by 56% vs. 2017 – and it’s looking like it will continue to grow in 2019 by 57%.

Drop in supermarket’s vegan (and Christmas) content
So, veganism and interest in it is clearly on the rise, families are calling out for compromises – you’d expect brands to be tapping into the trend. Last year, Tesco even revolved a whole campaign – #EveryonesWelcome – around the mixed Christmas dinner table, introducing their new vegan ranges and promoting inclusiveness.

However, based on Instagram feeds, it seems that this year supermarket brands have stepped down their vegan push.

Across a sample of four supermarket brands (Asda, Waitrose, M&S and Tesco), so far in 2019, there were fewer Instagram posts from brands promoting vegan or vegetarian Christmas options, decreasing by 11% y-o-y from the same time period in Nov/Dec 2018. It follows a broader trend of a decline in Christmas content – for the same brands, there was a massive 63% fall in Christmas food products and recipes y-o-y.

Based on all the above evidence this seems counterintuitive, but perhaps these brands have recognized that the week prior to Christmas is when consumer mindsets shifts to food, so have made a decision to save a bigger push on both vegan and Christmas content for the week leading up to the big day. This shift could also be explained by brands experimenting with and investing in new formats like IGTV – like M&S is doing with “Cook with M&S Food” and “What’s new at M&S” – leaving the Instagram grid as less of a priority than last year.

Vegan is not just for Christmas
The opportunity here is two-fold; firstly brands need to tap into the growing appetite for veganism and create content that inspires at Christmas time. Given the apparent lapse this year, the door is open for those who can proactively harness the vegan conversation.

Brands should also seize the opportunity to establish connections and develop meaningful relationships with their vegan and vegetarian communities, by sustaining and nurturing the conversation in the long run.

To talk and engage with modern families and consumers looking to cook or eat at Christmas, brands should mix variety and tradition in their product offering and promotional communication. Veganism and vegetarianism are growing in modern society – that’s a fact. Vegan and vegetarian products can be positioned not just as an alternative to turkey and roast beef, but as an integral part of a modern tradition.

While meat-eaters certainly shouldn’t be forgotten, content should be well rounded and cater for every community and their families, offering tasteful solutions for a stress-free Christmas.

Alessandra Cervi is Research & Insight Director at We Are Social.