As a one-time double-glazing salesman, Matthew Glover knows about how to sell something that nobody is really that excited about buying. ‘It’s a ‘distressed sell’. They’re buying it because the house is too cold or because their neighbours have it. Nobody relishes having workmen in their house fitting windows,’ he says. ‘In the same way nobody wants to go vegan. It’s stressful, a hassle, and you stand out from the norm when most people just want to fit in.’
Small wonder then that Glover was keen but had realistic expectations when he co-created Veganuary with his wife Jane Land – what started out around a decade ago as a crowd-funded campaign encouraging people in the UK to try a vegan diet for just one month, but which has since become an international annual event, pulling in one to two million people every January.
‘I think it has an ‘X Factor’ quality to it, like deciding to run a marathon. People see it as a challenge, and then the whole idea of veganism gains traction as a result,’ says Glover. ‘People do it saying they have no intention of going vegan – they just want to try new foods, or do it part of a new year health-kick. But many people find they do stick with it.’
That’s pleasing to Glover, because he is, at heart, an activist. Having tried waving a ‘close down slaughterhouses’ banner in London’s Leicester Square to what he felt was little effect, the idea of Veganuary – inspired in part, he says, by the ‘grow a moustache for charity’ event Movember – grew out of that desire to ‘do something that people might listen to, to make a difference.’ Some initially tried to persuade him to make it a vegetarianism-focused event; that veganism was a step too far. But that, he says, ‘wasn’t something I could put my name to, from an ethical standpoint.’
From Ethics to Environment
Indeed, Glover notes that the motivation for taking part in Veganuary varies considerably from culture to culture – in the US it’s more about health and wellness, for example; in the UK it seems to be more about a concern for animal welfare; in Germany it’s more the environmental impact of livestock farming.
Generally he reckons interest in veganism is a matter of health first – ‘which I get, because when I went vegan I felt so much better, slept better and lost weight – well, until discovered vegan junk food,’ he laughs – followed by sustainability, touching on everything from deforestation to land use, bio-diversity to water consumption and pollution. ‘Sadly,’ he says, ‘animal welfare comes a distant third.’ All three issues are, he says, ones he’s passionate about. More than that, he’s angry and bewildered.
‘The funny thing is that when you go vegan, you tend to find out a lot [about the impact of consuming animal-derived products] and you just don’t feel the same,’ he says. ‘So it’s bewildering and upsetting to me that you can show people the impact [of not doing so], most of those people will agree with you, but then they carry on as they were. You have those people who really love their dogs deeply but don’t care much about cows. There’s this disconnect there, this cognitive dissonance. It can feel like you’re in ‘The Matrix’ sometimes.’
Keeping it Mainstream
But Glover does a good job at containing his frustration. Given his background in sales and marketing, he knows he has to dial it back if he is to reach the largest possible audience – and, indeed, Veganuary has been criticised by some for not being hard-hitting enough.
‘It’s about ‘trying’ a vegan diet, not ‘going vegan’. And it’s not forever but just for one month. The fact is that if you’re too pushy you just wind people up. It’s quite deliberate that we don’t show graphic footage [of animal welfare abuses, for instance] on the website either. Veganuary is not the format for that,’ argues Glover, who also operates the more outspoken Gen V (genv.org) campaign and is currently working on a related documentary, due out in 2026. ‘With Veganurary we have to be pragmatic as a campaign or we wouldn’t get [the likes of major supermarket and food brands] working with us.’
It certainly seems to be working: Veganuary may not be the only reason why more people are turning to veganism – there are also other campaigns the likes of Meat-Free Mondays and the VB6 Vegan Before Six diet. But Glover is certain that it has played a key part, even if he’s surprised – given ‘The Matrix’ – that more people aren’t now embracing it. While there has been a recent downturn in sales of vegan food products – at least among the major brands in the meat alternatives and milk replacement sectors particularly – and an uptick in meat-eating, he believes that the long-term direction is still towards vegetarianism and veganism. There’s been a lot of media hype around such products, he suggests.
‘I think we’re going through what in the tech world they call the ‘trough of disillusionment’ [when interest in experiments wanes as they fail to deliver, forcing the failure of many and a change of strategy among the survivors to better meet consumer expectations]. We’re in a market correction phase of consolidation and calm,’ argues Glover, who also runs a venture capital operation, Veg Capital, specialising in investing in vegan businesses.
He cites the recent Plant-Based World Expo – the biggest plant-based foods trade event in Europe, at which he was a guest speaker – as an indicator of the ‘optimistic’ level of innovation in this field. ‘I think things will look very different for vegan products and from a societal perspective with regards to veganism in 10 years time,’ he reckons.
Perhaps he will be right. When he and Jane were planning Veganuary, she said to him that she thought it would be great if, say, one hundred people signed up to it. Glover felt more cautiously bullish. No, he reckoned more like one thousand people might do it. Time has proven both of them wildly, happily, wrong.