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.

Farmers vs Vegans

Cow in a field

Farmers seem to have a beef with vegans these days.

While this is nothing new, it seems the rise in plant-based products on supermarket shelves and the rising number of vegans is starting to get on their nerves.

The farming community has become more vocal in its opposition to any mention of the word “vegan” in the last few months, so as reports suggest more and more people are set to enjoy a meat-free Christmas I can only guess that pro-farming pressure groups such as the NFU and Countryside Alliance (a pro-blood sports group in the main) will increase their pressure on the now powerful vegan pound.

A recent article for the i newspaper not only highlighted the growing number of people intending to eat plant-based this Christmas but also pointed out that according to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans has quadrupled in the UK since 2014.

https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/food-and-drink/christmas-dinner-vegan-food-waitrose-1343981?fbclid=IwAR1b1bybyhIgNfi_ak0UiXrk56JVoSjf8HOMlIki4SsnoDBJ-iqevf1Ecbk

Of course, the seeds of discord were sown in response to both the 2019 and 2018 Vegan Campout events. Already controversial among vegans for the choice of venue, the Countryside Alliance spat out its dummy over a vegan event taking place on land usually reserved for agricultural shows. Maybe somebody should tell them that agriculture includes the growing of plants needed for a vegan diet?

In October, it was Tesco who faced the wrath of angry animal farmers when they dared to make an advert featuring a vegan sausage. This time, Piers Morgan wannabe Janet Street-Porter lambasted the humble plant-based cylinders in a Daily Mail tirade. Most vegans just laughed.

The NFU seems to be in competition with the Countryside Alliance as to who is the most vocal critic of veganism – and it was this Tesco campaign which saw the union throw its hat well and truly in the ring. Plant Based News also reported on the whole soap opera.

https://www.plantbasednews.org/culture/tesco-vegan-sausage-advert-branded-propaganda?fbclid=IwAR0Y7jVkbsHhZYhbNPDvrkWtSrZn580zpMBpaRvn0BY_JofuZY6io3t0WnY

The BBC provoked the red-faced fury of farmers not once, but twice in recent months. Firstly, a Christmas advert featured a turkey wearing an “I love vegans” sweater. They didn’t care that turkeys generally don’t wear sweaters, but how dare anyone promote vegans? Are we becoming too accepted for comfort?

“The NFU, which is concerned about the impact the ad will have on livestock producers, have now accused the BBC of being in breach of its impartiality rules by promoting veganism,” according to a piece in this article: https://www.farminguk.com/news/farmers-criticise-bbc-for-i-love-vegans-christmas-ad_54563.html?fbclid=IwAR3C0q9FU6b33wBf-okcwe4XuL2F7d3pCduEY7a_TMV3tiKeNNwYT4UWUwE

The numerous promotional items on livestock farming on the BBC’s Countryfile isn’t mentioned by the NFU.

Finally, the BBC actually produced a whole programme about the meat industry’s effect on the environment. Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? Was presented by Liz Bonnin and was also made available on the i-Player. It mainly centres around intensive American meat production. It is less concerned with animal welfare and focuses more on the environmental cost of eating meat.

The fact that going vegan is the best way an individual can reduce their carbon footprint seems lost on many of those who have complained. The most common attack seems to be that British livestock production is nowhere near as intensive as the American model. The individual lives of the animals involved seem irrelevant to all involved. This article in Farmers Weekly sums up the farming community’s anger: https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/farming-backlash-to-bbc-anti-meat-programme-continues

The Countryside Alliance has been responding to any anti-hunting story which appears over the last few years. The NFU seems to be taking a leaf out of their book and attacking anything that’s seen as “pro-vegan” recently. The notion of free speech doesn’t seem to register with either organisation.

Of course, this shows that veganism is now seen as a very real threat to the meat and dairy industries. The rise of the environmental movement has seen the industries come in for further criticism as prominent “green” figures ditch meat and dairy.

To be fair, such a backlash was to be expected. But the power of the vegan pound also cannot be underestimated. Supermarkets are filled with vegan products and even traditional meat and dairy companies (Greggs for example) are producing plant-based options.

The ethics of such moves is widely debated in vegan communities, but it does show that the demand is there. Instead of joining the diversification movement, many livestock and dairy producers instead choose to lash out at the competition.

This can be seen as a testament to the growing influence of veganism.

2020’s Veganuary is expected to be the biggest yet, so the growth in veganism shows no sign of abating. I’ll raise a vegan cider to that!

Peterborough’s Christmas Vegan Success

Crowd an stall shot of Thrive 3 - Peterborough Vegan Christmas Festival

Thrive Peterborough Christmas Vegan Festival was another success for the Thrive Tribe.

Held on Saturday, November 23, in Peterborough, it was the third Thrive event following a ticketed summer gathering.

I am, of course, a member of said Thrive Tribe and one of the four organisers of Peterborough’s number one vegan Christmas festival – along with Kim, Nicola and Kelly.

I wanted to give you an insight into the organisation and motivations behind such an event.

Work actually began back in June when the Thrive summer event was still being planned. Even starting so far ahead, we were unable to find a venue in Peterborough available on the Sunday we wanted, hence we had to hold it on a Saturday this year.

We did, however, find a bigger venue next to an out of town shopping area with free all-day parking.

Parking and the venue being too packed were the common complaints from the first vegan festival we put on (I blogged about it – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/11/27/a-citys-first-vegan-festival-an-insiders-view/ ), so we listened to people’s views and booked a similar number of stalls in a larger hall.

This worked very well – accessibility is an important issue to me – I want everyone to be able to come and enjoy the day – parents with pushchairs, those in wheelchairs and people who aren’t good in crowds included – I think we succeeded in this aim.

One of the pleasant surprises for me was the number of local independent vegan businesses who applied for stalls – and it was great to see how well they did on the day.

We don’t have an estimate of the number of visitors at the time of writing, but I’d say it was slightly fewer than the 2,000 who visited last year – I put this down to it being held on a Saturday. More people work Saturdays than Sundays and more events are also held on a Saturday.

Booking stalls was surprisingly easy. We posted the event on Facebook and Instagram and the applications began to roll in.

I designed an application form and a list of terms and conditions and we set about organising meetings to discuss applications.

We then started to confirm vendors, promote them through social media and collect public liability and food hygiene certificates.

Things like not blocking fire escapes, electrical requirements (we had to hire two generators after discussions with an electrician) and what the venue would and wouldn’t allow all had to be taken into consideration.

For a small group of people working voluntarily, a lot of work goes into putting on such events – and we were working on the day too – marking out the floor for stalls, making sure everyone was OK, dealing with any issues and overseeing the volunteers, workshop rooms, photo booth and kids’ craft areas.

In the weeks before the event, we went on a PR drive, sending out press releases and printing flyers to hand out to businesses which were likely to attract interested customers. There’s no point in putting on an event if people don’t know about it – and we wanted everybody who might be interested to know about it.

A huge plus for us on the day was the presence of Hench Herbivore – a well known social media star who proves how fit and strong vegans can be.

Stalls at the event included doughnuts, cakes, cheeses, dog treats, candles, toiletries, pressure groups, skincare, food, drink and so much more – people forget how big veganism is now – it really has become an economic force to be reckoned with in the modern age.

However, my main reason for getting involved is simply to spread the vegan message in Peterborough. At the time of our first vegan festival, nobody had done it here before and I wanted to see that change. I travelled to vegan fairs and I wanted one on my doorstep – therefore, if nobody else was doing it then why shouldn’t I? And when Kim came to us with the idea, I jumped at the chance of getting involved (I already co-ran the Peterborough Vegetarian and Vegan group with Kim).

In conclusion, the hard work is worth it – but if you want to bring a similar event to your town on a DIY ethos, talk to people who have put of similar events – there’s a lot to think about before going ahead. But vegans are friendly people and vegan business owners are among the friendliest of all.

Crowd an stall shot of Thrive 3 - Peterborough Vegan Christmas Festival

Naturally better than processed vegan cheese

 

Vegan cheeses have been big news this year. For instance, Sainsbury’s received a boost to their sales after social media Christened their new vegan cheese line “Gary” in response to the yawnsome “don’t call it cheese” reaction from non-vegan purists.

Almost as exciting as the rise in veganism, is the rise in small “start-ups” offering an alternative to the corporate vegan products out there; one such firm is The Naturally Vegan Food Company in Northampton, UK.

Offering a range of nut-based cheese alternatives, the NVFC have become a staple of vegan fairs in the Midlands for several months now – and they have been impressing those who have tasted their wares every step of the way.

I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to try a range of what they have to offer, and I must say I was rather impressed.

Their cheese balls are large and certainly have a nice rustic look about them. Being freshly-made means the “used by dates” aren’t as long as their processed competitors, but this is extremely reassuring to those of us who like more natural products.

The Vegan Cheese Ball has a creamy taste and offers a nice crunch, curtesy of the almonds it contains. It’s a nice orange colour, with a pleasant tang. For me, it works well with pickles, or on crackers. It isn’t overly spiced and is a nice addition to sandwiches.

The Smoked Vegan Cheeze Ball is my favourite. The almonds are very prominent here and it possessed a dark orange colour that shouts “smoked” in your face. Indeed, it tastes smoked too – which is always a bonus with smoked cheese! The nutty crunch is present and correct again and it has a lightly-spiced air to it, which adds to the gorgeous smoked flavour.

Sulmona Topping Cheese is your natural alternative to the vegan Parmesans out there – most of which are pretty tasteless if I’m to be honest. This, on the other hand, isn’t. You can taste the Nutritional Yeast used in this one – which is always a good thing – and the inclusion of pink salt is obvious to one’s taste buds too. It adds a nice, cheesy taste to pasta and pizza dishes. An effective and distinctive alternative without being too intrusive or overpowering.

Finally, the Creamy Classic Cashew does exactly what it says on the pot. It’s light, creamy and, most importantly, delicious. The use of garlic is very welcome and compliments the nuts extremely well. It’s perfect as a sandwich spread and is great on toast. It also works well as a dip – especially with celery.

Why not check The Naturally Vegan Food Company out for yourself?

 

https://www.yumbles.com/the-naturally-vegan-food-company

https://www.facebook.com/naturallyveganfood/