On my walk to the Rare studio in the morning, I pass Cupcake Nails on Paddington Street. It has been offering a vegan manicure for some time now. It’s the shellac or lanolin they do away with, I think. Every day, their sign reminds me how dynamic the market is in its ability and capacity to respond to shifting consumer preferences and behaviours.
Vegan pizzas, vegan butter, vegan burgers (plant based), vegan meal deals (Coop), vegan Dr Martens (actually plastic), vegan washing up liquid and, the supernova, the Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll (GVSR) - people queue along Great Portland Street for them. What an achievement. (On a different note, Greggs is an impressive company. I’ve shared an article on LinkedIn that’s worth a read)
There’s strong evidence that some demographics are eating less meat. And dairy and sugar and so on. I’m one of those people (“so you’re a Flexitarian?” “No, I just eat less meat.”). Vegetables are doing really well as people discover recipes and flavours that offer satisfying (and less expensive) alternatives, and menus with an unnamed ‘vegetarian option’ are pretty much history.
What’s really happening here?
This behaviour shift seems more like a correction. Historically, meat was on the menu infrequently - special occasions. In recent decades food has become unsustainably cheap and as consumers question quality, farming methods, waste and environmental impact, so they make incremental changes. And so here we are with a fabulous array of choices that enable us to consume vegetables, and less meat, easily and enjoyably.
I’m not vegan but I am curious. What’s really happening here?
“Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan.”
According to the latest research by the Vegan Society, conducted in 2018, there are around 600,000 vegans in Great Britain - up from 150,000 in 2006. As well as them, around 360,000 people are also describing themselves as lifestyle vegans (using or buying cosmetics and clothes free from animal products, for example).
So, assuming full-on vegans according to the definition above know what they are doing, it looks like the lifestyle vegans are trying out all the new stuff. Presumably they’re less likely to be worried by what’s cooking on the grill next to their meat-free burger. Last year, Burger King confirmed their vegan Impossible Burger would be cooked on the same broilers as chicken and beef. And how many businesses smaller than BK are seriously going to invest in new kit? Is the Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll (GVSR) heated in the same oven as its meaty peers?
And is anyone questioning what’s actually in all these new products? The GVSR is made with Quorn. OK. But the ingredients in a Co-op GRO Hoisin Du'k Wrap are going to mess with my word limit: Tortilla Wrap (49%) (Fortified Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Water, Vegetable Oils (Palm, Rapeseed), Raising Agents (Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Disodium Diphosphate), Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Malic Acid), Salt, Wheat Starch, Wheat Flour, Palm Fat), Seasoned Wheat and Soya Protein Pieces (22%) (Water, Wheat Protein, Soya Protein, Wheat Fibre, Rapeseed Oil, Coconut Oil, Yeast Extract, Flavouring, Dried Yeast, Onion Powder, Thickener (Carboxy Methyl Cellulose), Sugar, Sea Salt), Plum Hoisin Sauce (14%) (Water, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Dark Fermented Bean Paste (Fermented Soya Beans (Soya Beans, Water, Salt, Fortified Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin)), Water, Salt), Concentrated Plum Juice, Cornflour, Rapeseed Oil, Soy Sauce (Water, Soya Extract (Water, Soya Beans, Salt, Fortified Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin)), Salt, Cane Molasses, Malt Vinegar (Barley), Malt Extract (Barley)), Tomato Paste, Rice Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Yellow Bean Paste (Fermented Soya Beans (Soya Beans, Water, Salt, Fortified Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin)), Water, Salt, Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Acetic Acid)), Spices (Cinnamon, Fennel, Ginger, Aniseed, Clove), Roast Onion Purée, Salt, Red Chilli Purée, Ginger Purée, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Cucumber (7%), Spinach (4%), Spring Onion (2%), Cornflour (that’s 194 words).
I reckon the drop-off rate for lifestyle vegans is going to be pretty sharp. Cheap processed food is still CPF, and as my friend said, “I can tell that’s vegan cheese, it doesn’t taste of anything.” Precisely.
But a dynamic market responds to consumer preferences, and there's new advice for supporting vegans in the workplace.
The Vegan Society has shared suggested guidelines to help businesses look after their vegan staff. They range from having a separate shelf in the office fridge to providing vegan-friendly workwear for people who want it.
The charity wants vegans to be exempt from corporate events like horse racing or activities that might include cooking a ‘hog roast’ on a barbecue.
Other recommendations include colour-coded kitchen equipment and separate areas to prepare meat-free food - as well as non-leather phone cases, being exempt from any part of purchasing non-vegan goods and the chance for staff to have discussions about vegan-friendly pension options.