Shopping In The Vegan Minefield…

I’ve been vegetarian on and off for years and for the most part have tried to avoid most dairy products, except for when a camembert wheel is rolled out. However, as 2019 rolled around I started to consider in more depth the impact my dairy consumption was having on the planet. After much back and forth I decided to give Veganuary a shot as a starting point, and after a mere 3 weeks of veganism, here’s what I’ve learnt:

 

1.       It’s not always easy to spot what is and isn’t vegan

If you’re considering going vegan then you’ll naturally be prepared for your supermarket shopping habits to change. What you might not be prepared for is full System 1 overload. From where products are kept in-store, to how they’re labelled, intuiting what is and isn’t vegan is not always made easy by retailers.

Vegan products often sit in multiple places in-store: with vegetarian ranges in chilled meal solutions, with Free From in dairy, and hidden on a shelf alongside meat in the case of vegan-friendly mince. It is, in short, a minefield.

Caption: the Sainsbury’s Veganuary gondola end is a simple and effective solution to housing and highlighting exciting Vegan products in store.

Caption: the Sainsbury’s Veganuary gondola end is a simple and effective solution to housing and highlighting exciting Vegan products in store.

Even once I’ve located products, the terminology used on pack can be inconsistent and not always obvious. Marking something as ‘egg and dairy free’ is not the same as marking it as vegan. I’ve abandoned products at fixture many a time due to label-checking fatigue. As more and more people jump on the plant-based band wagon, retailers need to facilitate an easy shop to capitilise on this trend.

1.       Despite what Piers Morgan thinks, vegan food isn’t taking over

Whilst I work in a metropolitan city centre and thus have access to an array of vegan food options (including the elusive Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll), I live in a more rural location where accessing delicious vegan offerings of an evening and weekend is a challenge. I rely much more on larger, out of town stores where the wider range means I am more likely to find things I can eat.

Logic would seemingly dictate that vegans may tend to gather in larger cities and metropolitan areas and thus smaller, local retailers would be wasting their time.  However, that may no longer be the case. As the number of vegans sky-rockets to 3.5 million and more people dabble in being ‘flexitarian’, could your local greengrocer or corner shop fight off the threat of the big retailers by providing a convenient and exciting range of vegan options?

2.       Animal products are everywhere

A conversation I often have with people is ‘what would be your last meal on earth?’ (I’m fun at parties). My routine answer varies but one thing remains constant: Monster Munch Pickled Onion Crisps. Well, no more. Like many other seemingly innocent foods, my beloved crisps contain lactose derived from milk. And crisps aren’t the only surprisingly non vegan products.

Cheerios? Reinforced with Vitamin D3, sourced from Lanolin.  Not even alcohol is safe.  Wine and beer are often processed through Isinglass, a gelatin-based substance derived from fish. A natural consequence of the growth in vegan diets is increasing awareness of the less obvious ways animal products are used in food manufacturing. This means brands are having to be increasingly transparent and innovative in their production methods.  One such brand is Guinness, who last year announced they were making their product vegan, meaning you can now enjoy a pint of the black stuff with the absence of fish guts.

 

3.       Networking is key

The final and most important lesson for me.  Knowledge is power.  From knowing someone who has already tried veganism to following vegan accounts on social media, the more you know the easier it will be.

The power of the vegan grapevine (pun intended) cannot be underestimated, so brands and retailers targeting new vegan recruits need to get with the social media programme.  I’ve discovered many of my most beloved products through vegan Instagram accounts such as @accidentallyveganuk and @vegan_food_uk . Whilst I’m yet to see a #spon post from a company in my feed, savvy brands would surely do well to infiltrate these networks. After all, there’s nothing we vegans like talking about more than being vegan.

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Alicia Myers - Research Manager

Annabel Gerrard