Veganuary here in the UK has just come to an end – an initiative that encourages people to go vegan during the month of January as a way to promote and educate about a vegan lifestyle. Since the event began over here in 2014 participation has more than doubled each year, and this week Google has reported that searches for “Veganuary” matched “Dry January” for the first time this year.

More and more people are opting to follow a plant based diet, not only for reasons of health but also for environmental and animal welfare reasons. Here in in the UK, it’s estimated that now over 3.5 million people are vegan. Although this is still a small percentage of the overall population, add into that the number of households integrating “Meatless Mondays” into their weekly routines and you’ve got a large proportion of consumers looking for plant-based products in their day to day lives and shopping habits. Over in the US veganism hasn’t quite gained pace in the same way, with around 3% of the population in 2018 reported to be following a vegan diet, however there is undoubtedly a positive shift towards healthier eating and a more environmentally conscious way of life.

It follows that veganism is becoming big business, and there’s no better indicator of the impact of veganism on big business success than the story of British bakery chain Greggs. Greggs isn’t a franchise brand, but has a large network of company-owned bakery outlets across the UK. 2019 saw it launch an innovative and highly publicized new product line, the vegan sausage roll. The hot baked snack flew out of stores – and as a result Greggs bosses announced last month that they would pay out a £7million windfall to 25,000 staff after a “phenomenal year” that they directly attributed to the launch of the new plant-based product line.

Today In: Small Business

So with the increased interest in veganism and the inevitable recognition of its commercial potential, it’s understandable that 2019 saw a significant growth in vegan related franchise brands too.

Formula One star Lewis Hamilton has been one of the most recognizable figures to jump onto the bandwagon, joining up with hospitality company The Cream Group, and Beyond Meat investor Tommaso Chiabra to launch the Neat Burger chain in Fall 2019. Neat Burger has started with an initial location in London and has announced plans to expand through franchising, with 14 units across Europe, the U.S, and the Middle East planned over the next two years.

“I’m very passionate about being kinder to our world and also really respect Neat Burger’s commitment to more ethical practices and supporting small businesses, so this is something I’m also really proud to support. As someone who follows a plant-based diet, I believe we need a healthier high street option that tastes amazing, but also offers something exciting to those who want to be meat-free every now and again” said Hamilton.

So, just like Hamilton, we already know that the fast-food and casual dining industry can make for attractive franchise opportunities for both franchisor and franchisee – get the recipe right at the beginning and it’s a model that can be easily replicated across numerous locations. And over the pond just as here, fast-food continues to hold huge appeal due to it’s simple convenience.

Copper Branch is a real vegan franchise success story of the moment, and interestingly it’s the story of a franchisee turned franchisor too. Founder and CEO Rio Infantino started off his journey in the world of franchising as an assistant manager at McDonald’s, and from there became a multi-unit franchise owner as part of the Subway franchise network. Copper Branch was born out of Infantino’s entrepreneurial desire to develop a brand of his own and he launched the first location in Canada in 2014 before rolling out the franchise opportunity in 2015. There are now around 50 Copper Branch franchise outlets worldwide and a further period of rapid growth is anticipated. Marketing Director Andre Infantino describes their franchisees. “We have quite an educated bunch and they all basically want to do something different. They have a passion for running a plant-based business and for the plant-based movement.”

We’re right in the thick of the millennial movement. Seen as the world’s most powerful consumers, millennials are now buying houses, starting families – and starting businesses too. They are considered to be the driving force behind the plant-based diet movement. They’re drawn to spending their money with brands that they believe are authentic and that share their philosophies and beliefs. So not only are they the perfect target consumer audience for any emerging vegan businesses, they also make for an ideal franchisee for a vegan franchise brand. I’ve previously written about how millennials could be the future of franchising. So combining plant power with millennial power seems highly likely to be a recipe for future franchise success.