Social Impact Heroes: Why & How John Rushton Of Vegums Is Helping To Change Our World
Believe in something and fight until the bitter end for it. This quote or life motto has helped us a company around three major 3 pillars: health, animal welfare, and preservation of the planet — all of which are a constant battle. It requires us to spend more on products and packaging, be very selective about which suppliers we use and never take no for an answer.
As part of our series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Rushton.
John Rushton is the Co-Founder of Vegums, the conscious-tested vegan vitamin gummy that addresses the vitamin and mineral deficiencies associated with rapidly growing vegan and plant-based lifestyles while staying passionately committed to sustainability and animal welfare.
Since co-founding Vegums in 2018 alongside his business partner Abdul Sharief, the company has been certified by The Vegan Society and won the 2020 World Plant-Based Awards. Originating in the UK, Vegums has since expanded into Germany and the US, having introduced its vegan vitamin gummies to the market: Ve-ssentials, a multi-vitamin specifically optimized for the vegan diet; Fish-Free Omega-3, a vegan omega-3 from sustainably sourced marine algae, and Iron, 14mg of ferrous iron in just two naturally-flavored blackberry gummies. Under John and Abdul’s leadership, Vegums has seen a three-fold increase in sales in the UK in the last 12 months and in February 2021 received $450,000 in crowdfunding. In Stepember of 2021 they led the launch of Vegums’ fourth product in the UK and currently the brand hold a 4.8/5 score on Trustpilot.
All Vegums products subscribe to a broader vegan spirit and don’t use animal-based ingredients such as gelatin or sugar refined with bonemeal. Ingredients such as citrus peel are used as a gelling agent as opposed to animal-based gelatin, and natural colors and flavors are used together with a pinch of natural, unrefined cane sugar for sweetness. Advocates of a better planet, Vegums only use biodegradable or recyclable packaging, is carbon-neutral in the UK, and supports NGOs across the globe to help communities in need.
John holds a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from Manchester University, and a Masters in Pharmacy from Liverpool John Moores University — where he studied the absorption and action of nutrients on the body, at a cellular level. Prior to Vegums he worked in a teaching hospital in Manchester, UK. He is originally from Accrington, Lancashire in the UKs northwest, but currently resides in Cheshire with his wife Jen, three children, and their Ragdoll cat]. In his free time, he enjoys regularly beating Abdul at badminton; coast-to-coast cycle rides across the width of the UK, and underwater hockey (Google it!).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Accrington, a mill town in Northwest England. I always had a job, from 13 doing a paper round, then 15 working in a garage and all through University in various bars and restaurants. I qualified as a pharmacist and worked in hospitals all over the UK. Then, I went to medical school to retrain as a doctor and after 3-years we had launched Vegums.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Not really. Although more recently I’ve read the Brewdog book and Innocent Smoothy book, both being disruptor brands, I’ve drawn huge inspiration from these and applied the start-up high-ambition mentality to Vegums.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
There have been so many mistakes…
We auditioned for Dragons Den (UK version of Shark Tank) and during the questions with the BBC producer, which was filmed in the studio, me and Abdul got into a huge argument about which of us was the master and which the pupil when we first met. We forgot all about the audition and the producers just stood there, not knowing whether to intervene or not! A few weeks later they actually offered us the pitch, but we declined as we’d already secured funds.
OK thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. What is the origin story of Vegums? How did it come about?
Myself and Abdul tried a plant-based diet one Veganuary, but felt rubbish at the end of the month, mainly tired and lacking energy. This was probably because we opted for convenience food, rather than whole, nutrient-rich foods, but nevertheless, we felt we needed a vitamin boost. But when we looked at the vegan vitamin options they were so depressing: bland tablets, chalky chewables, or capsules that stuck in your throat. There were gummy vitamins but most were not suitable for vegans as they contained gelatin or sugar that was bone char filtered (a gross refining process that passes the sugar through the bones of cattle to filter it — loads of manufacturers do it but no one talks about it). The ones that were ‘suitable for vegans’ certainly weren’t designed for them — they contained plenty of the vitamins you don’t need and not enough of the ones you do.
In the end we gave up and decided to use our pharmaceutical knowledge to formulate our own vitamin with everything a vegan needs and nothing they don’t. We also took the opportunity to strip back the packaging to make it biodegradable and completely plastic-free, something no one else was doing at the time. When you’ve dispensed as many plastic bottles over the years as we have in the pharmacy, you’ll do whatever it takes to prevent anymore going to landfill or the bottom of the ocean.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring Vegums to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
In 2018 gummy vitamins were just coming on the scene and adults, as well as kids, were loving them. This, as well as huge awareness of the horrors of the meat and dairy industry (through popular Netflix documentaries at the time) was turning the general population into vegans by the thousands. We made Vegums for ourselves, but by doing so made them for a growing number of people just like us.
What is the mission of Vegums and how does that relate to your own life?
To disrupt the supplement industry, starting with a vegan and plant-based focus, making conscience-tested and plastic-free products the norm.
We are disruptors by nature, always questioning why something needs to be done a certain way and challenging things that we don’t think are right. We see Vegums as bigger than a supplement brand, we see it as a movement. We stand for 3 things: your health, animal welfare, and preservation of the planet. Vegums are just a manifestation of this.
What do you hope the takeaway is when customers consume Vegums? What makes the ingredients so special?
We hope they feel good: Feel good because they are taking the right vitamins so their body is running at its optimum, and also feel good about the fact that every time they buy a pack of Vegums they are making a difference, to saving the lives of animals and saving another plastic bottle from ending up on the bottom of the ocean.
The ingredients that make up Vegums are well thought out. Not only are they optimised and certified vegan, but they are also free of artificial colours and flavours and contain only a pinch of natural cane sugar.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with Vegums?
In the last year alone we have:
- Saved 430 animals by using fruit pectin instead of gelatine
- Saved over 86,000 plastic bottles
- Achieved carbon negative status in the UK by lowering our carbon footprint and offsetting it by planting trees around the world.
We expect to have an even bigger impact in 2022.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
They can tax the use of disposable plastic so that for those companies who only care about the profits, it becomes less economically viable to use. They can then reinvest that tax money into cleaning the environment and planting more trees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Believe in something and fight until the bitter end for it.
This quote or life motto has helped us a company around three major 3 pillars: health, animal welfare, and preservation of the planet — all of which are a constant battle. It requires us to spend more on products and packaging, be very selective about which suppliers we use and never take no for an answer.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One of our early adopters who subscribed shortly after we launched had a history of feeling tired and lacking energy. The doctor had taken blood tests and reported low vitamin B12 levels so she had started to take Vegums multivitamin every day. After a couple of months, she had a repeat blood test and the results showed normal B12 levels. As well as this, she felt great! I remember her sending the blood results over like a badge of honour and telling us about how she was full of energy, which had impacted her work and home life.
At that moment I realised that Vegums isn’t just vegan gummy vitamins, they’re a way to help people become a better version of themselves.
There have been tons more examples, especially of parents losing their minds because their kid had rejected every other vitamin until they discovered Vegums.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
www.vegums.us for all information about Vegums and our products
If you sign up for our newsletter we send a fantastic blog out once a week covering topics like ‘How to live vegan for less’, ‘Raising children vegan’, eco-friendly life-hacks, and tons more!
Instagram @vegums is a great dynamic platform to see what we’re up to