Is Veganuary killing vegan businesses?

Vegan "fish" and chips

I spoke to the owner of a vegan small business last week who is considering their options after a downturn in trade.

This year, in particular, has seen a huge rise in the number of vegan products on supermarket shelves. I’ve even written about it myself.

The Greggs release of their vegan steak bakes brought about a similar explosion in PR as the Greggs vegan sausage rolls row – boosting the profile of Greggs and Piers Morgan – and to a lesser extent veganism. The fact both products were already widely available as a vegan version in other shops was lost on absolutely everyone.

But the fact said bakes and sausage rolls are so cheap means that small businesses simply cannot compete. People are buying a vegan steak bake from Greggs and then make a token purchase from the small trader – and these token gestures are not enough to sustain a viable business

I noticed a post on Facebook last week about a small vegan business closing soon, and she raised many of the issues addressed in this blog.

The fact people are struggling financially – especially during January, means that supermarkets are able to tap into the Veganuary market and push the ethical vegan traders out. I understand fully why it’s Veganuary and not Vegurary – New Year’s resolutions and a healthy new year – and it has a ring to it – makes perfect sense. I just wish that more independent vegan traders are promoted alongside the big-name launches.

The Christmas Vegan Festival I co-organise saw a drop in numbers this year, but was still a great success, I believe people will save their money and spend at similar events – but vegan businesses need all of the vegan events they attend to be successful in order to continue trading – or in the case of High Street firms need people to go to them at lunchtime instead of the local supermarket od big name brand. A point raised by this blog.

Of course, I understand that some vegans simply have to go for the cheapest option, that for me is buying veg from the local market and cooking from scratch. It’s worth remembering that many of the products from independent traders are hand-made, not mass-produced like those on supermarket shelves.

I, like many older vegans, grew up when supermarkets had no vegan options and I, like others, managed to get by just fine by cooking from scratch and supporting the few vegan traders out there. It’s also worth remembering that independent traders are often solely vegan – unlike supermarkets and their ilk – they do not have a separate pot for vegan money and meat product money – the same applies to takeaway branches now offering a token vegan burger.

It must be pointed out that the issues raised in this blog also applies to fruit and vegetables – which last longer and taste nicer when purchased from your local market.

Do people really hate vegans?

Vegan protest

A recent article in The Guardian attempted to explain why people hate vegans.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/25/why-do-people-hate-vegans?fbclid=IwAR1Y_ZIehJTDu-REZWpqTCnnpOz_MgS2wRim2D2gA7eZOKjU3rUwY2q-cHw

With a provocative headline, the article is rather long, in-depth and, despite being full of history and good points, low on answers.

People dislike trends, there’s always a backlash against them and veganism is definitely a growing trend. People like to fight online and love the number of “likes” when they criticise veganism – Piers Morgan helped Greggs sell millions of vegan sausage rolls through giving them free publicity and sparking a debate. In a world where news sites like to post as many stories as possible during a day, veganism has become a buzz word which is seen as gaining an instant reaction.

News pages know veganism – like fox hunting – is a contentious issue and they like to fuel the fire with negative and provocative headlines – because the more comments, the higher their page “hit” rates – and this, in turn, makes them appealing to advertisers.

People don’t like their conservative world shaken up and veganism challenges the safety of what they have been taught and grown up with. “I like the taste of meat” really has become a convenient reason for not giving up meat.

It also must be said that there are a fair few climate change deniers in the world, and veganism is inextricably linked to battling man-made climate change.

People don’t like being told what to do – with climate and veganism whey ignore the message like a little petulant child with their hands over their ears shouting “I can’t hear you, la-la-la” despite the fact that what they are being told is totally based on facts.

Veganism really does threaten two whole industries – the meat and dairy industries, so, naturally, those involved in those industries are going to react badly to vegans – especially when we openly savagely attack the way they make their livings. Even our very existence through our purchase power is a threat – and our marketing strategies are heavily attacked and countered by their advertising campaigns and PR departments – look at the NFU’s reaction to the latest Tesco advert https://www.livekindly.co/watch-tescos-controversial-new-vegan-sausage-commercial/

I found the reaction both chilling and a beacon of hope – chilling because it shows that those who use aggressive marketing themselves are prepared to try and suppress their competitors – the history of animal product marketing was highlighted in The Game Changers too (my review – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2019/09/22/the-game-changers-vegan-movie-review/ )

I see hope because it shows that the rise and rise of veganism continues and it does pose a threat to those very industry which it is designed to threaten. Let’s be blunt, if we oppose the consumption of animal products then we want to see an end to the industries which profit from said products. Of course, the likes of Tesco who are cashing in on veganism also sell a vast array of animal products – maybe that’s exactly why farmers are fearful – think about it.

Finally, it has to be asked do people really hate vegans?

Behind the safety of a keyboard, I think may commenting on social media threads come across as anti-vegan, in real life, however, my experience is one of gently Mickey taking rather than full-on hostility. Certainly, there’s the backlash from the expected sectors of society, but on the whole, people I’ve worked with are considerate when it comes to going out for meals etc – after all, it has to be said, most people are still not vegan. We still have the freedom to protest in this country too, so vegans highlighting abuse and cruelty where they see it is carrying on this right and tradition – such protest just receive more publicity in the era of social media and as protests are more in people’s faces they have a greater impact – and more of a backlash. I don’t believe it’s anything personal.

Vegans just have to (sausage) roll with it

What’s the new Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll like?

That isn’t a rhetorical question, I really want to know – well, sort of, I can’t afford one right now.

I used to love the Holland and Barrett ones – cold and dipped in soup or warm and covered in ketchup – we all have different ways of eating sausage rolls – right?

The Linda McCartney ones are divine hot and the little Tesco own ones are cheap and my choice to stick in my pocket while I’m at work. The best ones, of course, are those made at home – with an array of vegan sausages available, it really isn’t that hard. Here’s an example: https://www.thevegspace.co.uk/recipe-easy-vegan-sausage-rolls/

While in Blackpool last summer, my friends were raving about the vegan-friendly sausage rolls at the Poundbakery – two for a quid apparently. I found a pie shop which had vegan pies instead, but I love the idea of cheap vegan food – I’m a working-class lad on a part-time wage, the falafel and avocado generation might as well inhabit a different planet to me.

But why all the fuss? Seriously. A new vegan product is rolled out as Veganuary launches its most successful campaign ever – so, why all the fuss?

Well, most of us who have been vegan for more than a couple of years have had issues with finding vegan-friendly food either locally, while we’re out, or at an affordable price – and since the advent of social media, vegans have become experts at doing marketing departments’ jobs for them. Although, the Twitter responses of Greggs have helped to propel the pastry product into the national spotlight: https://www.livekindly.co/greggs-shuts-down-piers-morgan-hating-on-vegan-sausage-roll/

greggs tweet

Of course, all publicity is good publicity, so enter stage right, the pantomime villain in the shape of Piers Morgan.  As you will have heard unless you live under a rock on the Planet Omnivore in the outer reaches of the Carnivorous Way system, you will have realised that the elation of Piers to vegan hate figure cause célèbre has not only helped Greggs boost their profits but has also helped to raise the profile of the man we all like to hiss at. Rumours that they share a PR company do seem more and more likely.

So, my friends, this is veganism in the 21st century – social media veganism if you will…. And, while I realise that social media is great for spreading the V-word, it can also dilute the message. For me it isn’t about sausage rolls, pantomime villains and PR stunts, it’s about getting more people to stop eating animals, to get more farmers to stop breeding animals for slaughter and for more people to make the connection between animal rights and what’s on their plate.