If you do ‘Dry January’ without telling anyone…did it even happen? We’ve become accustomed to humble brags from our peers, both in person, and on social media, every January. After the indulgence of Christmas, January is all wheat grass shots and fresh heads on a Sunday morning as people across Ireland embrace life without alcohol. However, this year, Dry January had to compete with another word; ‘Veganuary’.

A recent Opinions.ie study asked 1,000 people online about diets and nutrition. Out of 1,000 people interviewed, 10% were vegan, vegetarian, or in the process of becoming one. Of those who eat meat or fish, 14% had considered adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, and a further 20% would consider cutting down on meat and fish. In a country raised on cows milk, it’s rare nowadays not to see a list of non-dairy milks on the board in a coffee shop; almond, oat, coconut and soya are now part of the milk offering for our hot beverages.

The increased prevalence is evident, with 73% of the total population believing veganism and vegetarianism is becoming more popular. Of the 100 vegetarians and vegans we interviewed, although almost half (46%) have been vegetarian or vegan for five or more years, a quarter (26%) have been following this diet for less than six months.

When it comes to food choice, over half (55%) of the vegans/vegetarians interviewed agree that supermarkets offer good choice for vegan and vegetarian foods. Restaurants and cafes are lagging behind with just 28% agreeing they offer good choice, although this is improving, and we are seeing more and more restaurants offering meat alternatives. Vegan and vegetarianism is certainly becoming more mainstream and this is reflected in numerous supermarkets, restaurants and cafes across Ireland and the UK. Marks & Spencer now have a plant-based range ‘Plant Kitchen’, offering cauliflower popcorn, meat free burgers and no pork sausages. Restaurants like Wagamama have introduced a vegan menu, and even the local pub in my hometown has started offering a vegan carvery.

The main barriers for people not becoming vegan or vegetarian are loving meat too much (55% of meat-eaters) and believing it’s natural to eat meat (38% of meat-eaters). Growing up in Ireland where ‘meat and two veg’ is the cornerstone of many a dinner, it can be difficult to deviate from this psyche. Nutrition concerns also rate highly as a barrier to adopting a vegan/vegetarian diet, with 28% concerned that they wouldn’t get enough protein and a third (33)% concerned about getting the right nutrients from a vegetarian or vegan diet. There is also a proportion that say they couldn’t live without dairy products (35%).

In saying that, there are a number of factors that are driving people to adopt a plant-based or meat free lifestyle. When asked their reasons for becoming a vegetarian or vegan, 6 in 10 state animal welfare and over half (52%) state health reasons. Another influential factor is the environment with over a third (35%) stating environmental reasons. Our environmental consciousness is increasing and while sustainability plans were once niche for the majority of businesses, it is now a prerequisite for many and a key consideration in forming company strategies. Among others, Lidl have removed non-recyclable packaging from their fruit and vegetables, McDonalds have pledged a complete transition to paper straws in 2019, and a number of coffee shops encourage reusable cups by offering a discount to customers who bring their own cup. On a daily basis we learn more about climate change and the impact that human activities are having on the planet. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), livestock are responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a statistic which has seen an investor group (FAIRR) worth $6.5 trillion demanding the world’s biggest fast food chains take better control of their carbon footprint and set emission targets

When it comes to health, we see sharp difference in the perception of a vegetarian/vegan diet being healthier than a non-vegan/vegetarian diet. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of vegetarian/vegans we interviewed believe their diet is healthier versus one fifth (20%) of meat-eaters who believe a vegetarian/vegan diet is healthier. When asked about their weight, 55% of vegetarians/vegans said they were normal weight, versus 35% of non-vegetarians/vegans, while 3 in 10 (31%) of vegetarians/vegans described themselves as slightly overweight, overweight or extremely overweight, compared to almost 6 in 10 (58%) non-vegetarians/vegans. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends that we get between 5 to 7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. We found that vegetarians and vegans were twice as likely to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables versus non-vegetarians/vegans (31% versus 15%). With this in mind, is adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet the way to both manage our weight and boost our fruit and vegetable intake while helping to save the planet?

Results taken from research conducted by Opinions Market Research Agency in January this year among a sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ in Ireland with quota controls set on age, gender and region to reflect the population. Opinions.ie are a boutique market research agency based in Donnybrook, D4 with their own online panel of 10,000 consumers.