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.

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

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.

Indulgent vegan lunch treat

CO-OP Sweetcorn Fritter & Pineapple Salsa sandwiches

Limited Edition – £2.50 for two.

 

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If you’re looking for a vegan summer lunch treat and are feeling flush, these are a welcome addition to the choices out there.

The fruity hit of pineapple, the slight zing of salsa heat, the crunch of veg and pleasant taste of the red pepper bread are all reasons to indulge with this summer treat.

On the other hand, the price tag and an ingredients list that would pass for the first chapter of a novel are the downside that scream “buy some strawberries instead”.

Of course, it’s positive that High Street supermarkets are embracing veganism – but that’s probably the marketing execs getting their backsides into gear rather than any long-term romance with ethical living. Either way, it annoys the NFU, so can only be seen as a good thing. And, it’s the CO-OP the only vaguely ethical supermarket – or, at least, the least unethical supermarket, in the UK, so, their vegan output really does have to be taken seriously.

Sadly, this branch’s (Orton Centre, in Peterborough) is seriously lacking in the vegan-friendly freezer department – so one can’t have everything it seems.

Back to the sarnies – and you could have eaten both in the time it took to read the above – they smell nice, they look nice and they taste quite good. The cool salsa dominated taste-wise and the aforementioned hit of fruit is nice, but I wasn’t blown away – even spice-wise or, indeed, taste-wise in general.

They do lack a “wow” factor, and that is a bit of an issue for me. There is nothing in the vegan rule book that says we can’t enjoy utterly fantastic food. We should not expect bland or “OK” vegan options – we deserve to be bowled over with tongue orgasms every time we pay over the odds for vegan food many think we should be “grateful to have”.

Given this, an indulgent price should be reflected in the taste of the product – so, CO-OP, close but no cigar.

 

The only vegan in the office

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Being a vegan at work can be hard, well, work.

Even with the 4 billion per cent rise in veganism (figures curtesy of the Leave Campaign and Diane Abbott), many people just don’t “get it”.

“But what do you eat.” Food mainly.

“You can’t even eat eggs?” Even eggs? Most people don’t actually die from a lack of egg consumption.

“Don’t you miss bacon?” No I don’t miss a fried slice of pig skin too much.

And so on.

To be fair, many people do try hard.

My former employers used to ask about vegan options on the menu for Christmas meals out. One restaurant forgot to get vegan cheese in and offered me a vegan alternative – and a free round of drinks for my table! Everyone wanted to be friends with the vegan that night.

But I did once go to an Italian restaurant whose vegan option was a pizza without cheese – that actually turned out to be a base with tomato sauce on it and two bits of asparagus. I like asparagus, but two pieces a pizza topping do not make.

But people do forget that it goes beyond diet sometimes. We won’t bet on the Grand National, go dog racing, give to Cancer Research etc etc.

Sometimes explaining these things can get a little bit tiresome – but when that happens, remember that it gives you an opportunity to explain your stance. In effect, you are being asked to be a “preachy vegan” – so go for it. You never know, you might open someone’s eyes.

I asked people on social media for their experiences. One Facebook friend mentioned how friends were raising their child vegan and said this on the ill-informed response she received: “Apparently, it’s ‘borderline child cruelty to impose veganism on someone who can’t think for themselves.’ Like animals can think for themselves, yeah?”

Somebody else had slightly more positive experiences: “People at my office are generally pretty good – and interested in talking about veganism. My boss is ace and has sourced me Vego bars for Easter and vegan cider for Xmas. However, I wasn’t able to go to the Xmas meal as they had a really rubbish vegan option – so it’s not always at the forefront of people’s minds. Also, people always bring in cake for their birthday and I can never eat it.”

Personally, I like the response from one office worker, who said: “My boss’s response “well there must be other normal vegans out there because you’re quite normal”.”

You see, we are normal!

Canteens were another issue, with many vegans bringing in packed lunches even when this facility is available in a workplace. One worker had this to say about company-provided food: “For the last company event I asked in advance if a vegan option could be possible. They ordered me 6 dry bread rolls. Compare that to the treatment I got when I recently visited our sister company in Sweden – they had informed the hotel in advance, arranged a vegan lunch for me every day and had informed the restaurant where we had an evening function that a member of the party was vegan and planned a menu for me.”

To be fair, the first time I ever encountered avocado was at a training event where a vegan meal was provided for me.

Several vegans I asked on Facebook said they were known as “the vegan” at work – something I find a bit laced with prejudice, although it can be done affectionately.

The most blunt response I received was from a builder friend: “Try telling someone you are vegetarian or vegan on a building site it’s almost as bad as telling them you sh***ed their granny the night before.” Quite!

It was also pointed out that “Case law has shown that veganism is a protected belief.” Something that is worth remembering if you get bullied or singled out in the workplace.

One respondent in charge of tea and coffee had been using soya milk instead of cows’ milk for months before anybody noticed… It’s worth checking that nobody has a soya allergy before doing this, however, the same applies to nut milks.

It is a bit difficult when someone brings a smelly McDonalds into work, the same applies to Tuna or egg, all of them smell like hot death to a vegan’s sensitive nostrils. To the death eater, we are a bit weird. Being a bit weird is generally OK you know – especially considering the alternative.