The Rise of Vegan Influencers

Healthy Living is All We Avo-Wanted

Previously we explored the rise and fall of food influencers — personalities on Instagram who wrote reviews on restaurants, curated cafes, and recommended where to get the best dining deals. In the earlier days of Instagram, these were the food influencers people looked out for. They were known for their artistic shots of food and quick, helpful writeups. Today, audiences on Instagram expect something very different from food influencers. It is no longer enough to take a good photo of your pesto mac ‘n’ cheese; you have to have made it too, and it should contain self-sourced, sustainable ingredients. The bar is high.

Who are our game changers?

Popular food influencers today fall into three main categories, all of which are not mutually exclusive.

1ST – we have the rise of vegan influencers who devise their own healthy, plant-based recipes that they share with their followers on Instagram.

2ND – we have food influencers who advocate living a healthy lifestyle, and this manifests through their food choices that are displayed on Instagram, as well as collaborations with certain healthy food brands.

3RD – this category does not necessarily pertain to ‘healthy’ food, but rather quick DIY food–still homemade, but without the pressure of labels like ‘organic’ and ‘vegan’.

I looked at three influencers on Instagram that fall into at least one of the first two categories. All these accounts are verified and have a minimum of 1 million followers.

  1. @deliciouslyella

With a total of 1.5 million followers on Instagram, Ella really worked her way to the top. It took her 7 years to become a macro-influencer as well as publish her own cookbook, release an app, and open a deli in London.

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Here is what her follower growth has looked like since end 2016. Her audience grew at an average of 2-3% over the last 2 years, which is about the same time and frequency that our ‘old’ food influencers were losing traction. 62.5% of her followers are female which is interesting considering this isn’t an inherently feminine account (and we don’t want to feed into the stereotype that only women use the kitchen!).

Another interesting fact is that none of Ella’s Top 5 performing posts of this year contain food. In fact, this was the most popular:

It was followed closely by 4 other pictures of her displaying a baby bump. If we consider the sheer number of female followers she has, then this is perhaps unsurprising. Now that she is a mom-to-be, Ella is likely also straddling a role as lifestyle influencer on top of her role as food influencer.

2. @minimalistbaker

This account doesn’t seem to be attached to a visible personality, but it also has 1.5 million followers. In it’s bio, it promises simple recipes: “10 ingredients, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less”. Just like Ella’s account, @minimalistbaker also seems to have experienced a steady growth in followers since end 2016.

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The growth rate of this account is slightly faster, sometimes growing at 8% between months. Because there is no ‘person’ behind this account (not one we can see, at least), all we are privy to is food. Sometimes, that is more enticing than having to painstakingly scroll through intermittent pictures of yoga or couple selfies on food accounts that also happen to be lifestyle accounts.

The accounts top post for this year is this picture of a salad. A SALAD. Who knew 41K people would like a salad?

To be fair, this looks really good and it is vegan and it was prepared in under 30 minutes. This post received a 2.8% engagement rate, which is slightly higher than the account’s average of 1.42%.

Both Ella and @minimalistbaker have similar geographical audiences. Their top countries include the US, UK, Australia and Canada. In terms of age group they also attract a similar demographic: 25-35 year olds who are young enough to be caught in the wave of veganism but also old enough that they likely have to prepare their own meals before/after work.

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3. @fullyrawkristina

Third in the same category is Kristina with 1M followers on Instagram, who identifies herself as a “Healthy Lifestyle Advocate” and has been vegan for 13 years. Like Ella, she also has an app and a book. Kristina’s audience growth is slightly more sporadic, as evident from the graph below, but this is likely because she regularly ‘weeds’ her followers and those she is following. She eats clean and lives clean.

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Nevertheless, the general trend is still upward moving, which shows how prevalent vegan influencers are becoming on Instagram.  

Kristina’s top performing posts are also not food-related, which means that she falls into the second category of influencers — advocates, more than she does the first — self-made cooks. One of her top posts from this year is a comparison image: the popular #10YearChallenge that was trending on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

#10yearchallenge I’ve transformed from a hyperglycemic type 2 diabetic to a very healthy raw vegan. 🙏🏽🦋🍉 It’s now been 13+ years that I’ve been a #fullyraw #vegan, and it’s completely changed my life—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m telling you…fruits and vegetables are powerful, healing foods. They are medicine. 🥭✨ So much has changed in my life since that first photo. I went from sick, hopeless, and depressed to a girl who found her purpose being of service to others, starting @rawfullyorganic, becoming an female entrepreneur of 4 entities, losing everything…and then learning to pick herself back up again. ✨ If there’s one thing that I feel differently now, it’s maturity, grace, and discernment. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned because they have made me SO much smarter and stronger. I won’t be making the same mistakes again. I’m eternally grateful for my family, my friends, and the relationships I’ve made along the way. I thank those who have stood by me during this past decade and who have loved me unconditionally. ✨ This journey started for me when I changed my diet. I am committed to my growth and continuing to help others. Here’s to the next ten years! Who’s with me?! 🍍🥑♥️🍇🥬🙏🏽✨

A post shared by Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram (@fullyrawkristina) on

Here is a picture of her looking much healthier after converting to a vegan diet, and serves as a source of inspiration for her followers. At the core of it, she is influencing.

What does this mean for #InfluencerMarketing?

In our previous article, I concluded that food influencers who simply review restaurants were not ideal for influencer marketing. They couldn’t work with brands per se, and were only useful for recommending restaurants. With these lifestyle influencers on the other hand, healthy food brands and even supermarket chains have found that sponsoring an influencer helps with sales and brand awareness.

I took a look at the various collaborations each influencer had with a brand to determine the reach and extent of this marketing style.

Ella is the most popular of the three so I looked at her collaborations first. Between January 2018 and March 2019, she has worked with supermarket and department store brands like Whole Foods UK, Ocado UK, Boots UK, and Sainsbury’s, as well as independent brands like @planetorganic, @coyo_uk, and so many more. These are in part due to her books and food labels named after her Instagram handle, but it is clear that brands have found her to be an ideal influencer when it comes to promoting their brand to a large, health-conscious audience.

Kristina, being more of a lifestyle influencer, has not worked with as many food labels. However, she does have her fair share of sponsors which include @depetra jewels, @sunwarriortribe proteins, @100percentpure fruit-based makeup, @soulshinebali hotels and more.

Concluding Thoughts

It is quite clear that healthy and homemade are what people are looking for these days. Dining out doesn’t seem to be as much of a commodity as it was before, which explains the rise and dip in respective food influencer trends.

Healthy food influencers seem to overlap with lifestyle influencers, which is natural considering eating healthy is very much a lifestyle. With the rise of environmentally-conscious individuals in the wake of global warming, people are making more responsible and sustainable choices in terms of their food. Looking to Instagram influencers who promise an easy and responsible way to live and eat seems to be the way forward.

Written by Deesha Menon

Influencer Marketing at Popular Chips. Interested in social issues, narratives, books, social media, and machine learning.

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