Standing out in the crowded world of veganism

Veganism, sustainability, ethics and environment protection.- these are all concepts, which, while having existed for years, were only brought to the public spotlight in the recent years by a generation widely criticised for its own self-obsession. The Millennials do indeed spend a large amount of time focusing on themselves, but this also means that even their small choices, are now taken into serious consideration as they all become part of the overall profile presented on the screen for everyone to see. But for businesses this means they have to face a choice- stick to proven and successful models or take a risk in the battle for the young customers’ approval.

The vegetarian lifestyle has been around since ancient years- particularly associated with the Pythagoras and his disciples, who reportedly lived on a diet of bread, honey and vegetables, since Pythagoras believed in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls. So, how could a person slaughter and eat an animal if there was a chance that in their next life they might be reborn into one? Pythagoras was described as tall and handsome, almost God-like so it is not surprising, that the diet he followed, even though it was considered strange, still survived and was adopted through the centuries.

“Vegan” as a word appeared much later, with the start of the first official Vegan Society in 1944, although discussions about whether vegetarians should eat dairy and eggs can be traced to as early as 1909. In fact, The editor of The Vegetarian Messenger wrote in 1923: “We feel that the ideal position for vegetarians is abstinence from animal products, and that most of us are, like other reformers, in a transitional stage.” The first known vegan cookery book “Kitchen Philosophy for Vegetarians” was also published as early as 1849. Although the term “vegan” was not yet in use, the recipes excluded animal products of any kind.

Since the official foundation of the Vegan Society on the 5th of November 1944, the dietary lifestyle has had its regular portion of followers. Until a few years ago, in 2014 when the Vegan Society’s report notes that “In the past three years, the society has experienced unprecedented, positive interest in the vegan diet, and a membership increase of 20%. Veganism is enjoying a period of media interest in the UK and US press as well as in other parts of Europe, unlike anything it has known before.

This was first noticed at the beginning of 2013 when we saw an increase in the number of people signing up to our online pledge to go vegan for a week or a month. In the first three months of 2013, the number was up 40% worldwide (and 26%in the UK).”

Insights from Kantar Usage Panel support similar agenda. Consumers ate 87 million more entirely Vegan-friendly meals over 2016 than in 2015. Meat-free options, such as Quorn meat substitutes, are also growing strongly in popularity, with shoppers spending an additional £30m on these year-on-year. Free from milk is up 10% year on year, and dairy alternative cheese has grown an incredible 80% over the same period, putting its value at £17.8m.

Google searches for ‘veganism’ in the UK have risen dramatically over the last five years, with a peak in October 2017. Figures from Kantar World Panel show clear progress in the dairy-free market, with figures to August 2017 showing a year-on-year market growth of 18.3%. As a share of the total dairy market, the dairy-free segment has grown from 1.7% to 3.4% in the last five years. (Cooke, K. 2017)

Rachel Knight, consumer insight director at Kantar World Panel, says: “Not only are we seeing more people buying free-from dairy products, those who do are picking them up more often, suggesting they are becoming more of a staple in shoppers’ baskets and a trend that’s here to stay.”

Shopping trends have logically transferred to the food and drink industry with more and more restaurants abroad and in the UK, bakeries and takeaways opting for a vegan, ethical re-branding, to attract customers.

Just Eat, the consumer-favourite online food order and delivery service reported in 2017, that there was an 987% increase in demand for Vegetarian options and 33% of all Just Eat Restaurant Partners now provide Vegan and Vegetarian options on their menus.

In Manchester, Ali Sheikh closed his kebab shop and re-opened it in January 2017 as Little Aladdin, serving affordable Indian vegan fast food. Gross sales increased 50%, food costs decreased 50%. And because of the reasonable prices the clientele remained steady. Ali says: “It changed my life, I didn’t have Facebook or Instagram. Now, the young people tag me on social media and my posts get hundreds of likes. We’re now getting lots of regulars. We keep our prices fair because vegan food shouldn’t be more expensive.”

In London, The Fields Beneath decided to embrace a more ethical and environmental friendly approach. When they put a note on the window, saying:

“In order to make milk, all animals, whether human, or cow or otherwise, must have a child. Cows are pregnant with theirs for nine months just as we are. The milk they produce is for their calf; in order for us to get it the calf is taken away or killed, usually within a day or two. Free-range or organic, it doesn’t change that fact. After several moths of milking, her milk production drops so she is made pregnant again. This will happen from the age of two, to the average age of six, at which point most dairy cows become too exhausted, ill or infertile and are slaughtered for meat.

This is a standard practise in the UK.

So from March 26th 2017 this café will have a completely vegan menu. Our intention is to make veganism delicious, convenient and accessible.”

They also promote biodegradable cups and try to make the everyday life of Londoners “less un-sustainable”. This worldview has made them stand out- their social media following saw increased from 700 to 7,000 Instagram followers in the space of just one month. The Fields Beneath also maintained a gross profit of 68% after turning officially vegan in March 2017.

With Veganism becoming mainstream and more and more food businesses choosing to invest in the idea, it becomes increasingly hard to truly “stand out”. In 2018 offering a vegan menu is not enough, as people are turning their eyes to the way the business is ran.

Michaela Pontiki, Founder of Arapina- Healthy Lifestyle Bakery in London shares: “We primarily use organic products where costs permit and trusted suppliers where we know the ingredients origins and processes. For us it is important to offer the best quality found of raw ingredients as this affects the quality of our finished product and the wellbeing of our customers.

In Arapina the wellbeing of humanity is in the heart of what we do; in the same way we treat our customers we treat our employees as well. All our employees receive detailed plans for personal and professional development and our support guiding them through. They participate in bonus and shares schemes as well as they are offered in house paid meals and breaks, progression opportunities, employers friendly working hours, etc.

We usually employ from within the local community and promote healthy social structures and employment. We act sustainably, our revenue feeds back into the community and care for our neighbourhood as we really strive to make a difference.”

And it seems like Arapina are enjoying the support of the people. Their turnover has increased by by 50% between 2017 and 2018, 95% of which are returning clientele. They are enjoying a steady 85% social media popularity and approval and are the highest scoring restaurant on Deliveroo and UberEats. Their business model has stood out from the crowd, gaining them the award for Best Food and Beverage supplier in London 2018.

In 2015 the Global Reporting Initiative released a report on the future business trends, which predicts that by 2025 companies will be held accountable more than ever before as they will be seen as institutions, which have the power and importance to find solutions to the rising social problems. “Sustainability and Reporting Trends in 2025: Preparing for the Future” also warns that corporate decision makers will encourage the companies to tackle sustainability issues and demonstrate through their business strategy and relationships the dedication to engaging regional players and public-private partnerships.

Now, in 2018 it seems like the baby steps are turning to, at the least, adolescent ones and the expectations and speed with which businesses are expected to embrace vegan, sustainable and ethical practices to stand out and survive, are growing with every minute.