Anecdotal evidence about the impact of Dry January and Veganuary on UK consumer shopping habits has been backed up by new figures that show a sharp rise in sales of alcohol-free beer and plant-based foods.

According to Kantar, retail sales of non-alcoholic beer jumped 37% during the month, while adult soft drinks increased by a more modest 3%.

Separately, Nielsen Scantrack data for the three weeks to January 18 show sales of no and low alcohol lager up 19.6% year on year; equivalent figures for low/no alcohol cider and spirits were +13.6% and +10.2% respectively.

“No and low alcohol manufacturers are investing heavily in innovation and, by this January, 13 new no/low alcohol spirits launched to market, in comparison to only eight products in the market by January of last year,” noted Gemma Cooper, Nielsen Commercial Business Partner.

“Although both traditional alcohol manufacturers and no/low manufacturers have increased their promotional activity in the fight for shoppers, our initial data shows that shoppers have been leaning more towards the healthy option,” she told WARC.

Kantar also reported that sales of meat substitutes such as soya mince or vegetarian burgers and sausages were 14% higher than January last year, while sales of lentils were up 6%, lettuce 10% and aubergine 14%.

And more than twice as many consumers bought one of the supermarkets’ explicitly labelled plant-based products in January 2020 as they did in the more indulgent run-up to Christmas.

A Kantar Worldpanel survey of more than 6,000 adults who participated in Veganuary found that health was the main reason for doing so, cited by 42%; environmental concerns (28%) and ethical reasons (27%) lagged behind.

Nor are the increased sales primarily about people suddenly deciding to switch to a strict vegan diet – the trend is about people making small changes to their eating habits and retailers are responding accordingly.

Following the surprise success of the Greggs vegan sausage roll in January 2019, both supermarkets and on-the-go outlets were well prepared this year, from the Co-op’s Gro range to Marks & Spencer’s Plant Kitchen; KFC, meanwhile, announced it has sold 1 million vegan burgers since the product was launched on January 2 2020.

Popular as these new lines are, they couldn’t offset a slowdown in sales at UK supermarkets: January sales were up just 0.7% in January, according to the latest Total Till data from Nielsen, compared to a 3.3% increase a year earlier.

The number of items purchased per trip is less than last January, the research firm reported, with price cuts and vouchering being used by the ‘big four’ supermarkets to entice customers. This has led to consumer spend on promotions being maintained at 26% of sales, it added.

Meanwhile, discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to buck the trend, growing at 5.6% and 10.8 respectively over the 12 week period to 25 January.

Sourced from Kantar, Nielsen, Plant-Based News; additional content by WARC staff