Boycott or Back? : Vegan products from non-vegan brands

According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans quadrupled in the UK between 2014-18 to more than 600,000.[1] Whilst it’s very exciting to be a part of this historic change, as the vegan lifestyle continues to grow and more people choose plant based and animal free alternatives, it is inevitable that many brands will jump on the bandwagon, including those who may not follow the same ethical or vegan values that the lifestyle promotes.

Many large, corporate companies are recognising the vegan trend and the potential for huge profits. Most of our large supermarket chains in the UK have launched vegan ranges and have witnessed extraordinary results. For example Tesco’s ‘Wicked Kitchen’ vegan meals more than doubled the company’s sales projections[2] and Sainsbury’s vegan cheese range outperformed predictions by 300%[3]! Danone, a massive dairy based company has invested $60 million in plant-based milks[4] and Tyson Foods, America’s largest meat processor has invested in vegan brand Beyond Meat[5]. McDonald’s, Domino’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs and Bailey’s have all added vegan options to their range and most large restaurant chains in the UK have included not just one, but several vegan choices to their menus.


But should we invest in these products when the company that makes the profit ultimately has no interest in animal rights?

Investing in local, more transparent and independent businesses is a way to ensure that your money goes towards the kinds of company that shares your beliefs. I’ve seen a meme floating about which says ‘Every time you buy from an independent business, an actual person does a happy dance’. Cheesy, but certainly true. By boycotting all non-vegan brands we, as a consumer have the power to put our money where our ethics and values lie. Spending a little time to investigate where our purchases come from, what they contain and whether the company is owned by one of the big guys is all well and good (this Oxfam infographic says it all), but it can be confusing and end up leaving you with an empty shopping basket and a headache. Additionally, it really is just a drop in the ocean and the growth of the independents will be tiny compared to the conglomerates selling their new vegan products[6]


And yet, surely this increased availability of vegan alternatives is a positive one?

This Veganuary article is very interesting and raised some thought provoking points; it completely turned my ideas up on their head. Matthew Glover’s argument is that by choosing to purchase vegan products from the big boys, we, as consumers make it clear to them that this is what we want and that it’s a sector worth investing in. By making it clear that the vegan market is where the money is the large brands are likely to develop more vegan products, and so indirectly pump less money into other animal based products.

He discusses vegan brands who have either been bought out or invested in by larger, non-vegan brands, such as Beyond Meat who I mentioned earlier. Many such companies have received criticism from animal activists who argue that they have sold out and no longer can call themselves vegan. And yet the sales of their products often skyrocket as they become more widely available and their brand is developed with the additional profits and investment[7]. The increased choice and accessibility of vegan products we have today is amazing and still expanding, we surely would not want to go back to times when there were no vegan options except salad and plain rice?


So, can this argument be mirrored


n the beauty industry?

Beauty companies are also seeing the potential profits in the vegan market, with vegan product launches rising by 175% between July 13 and July 18 in the UK[8]. Unilever has launched ‘Love Beauty and Planet’, a completely vegan friendly range made with ‘ethical and sustainably sourced ingredients… and bottles that are 100% recycled and recyclable[9]Garnier, owned by L’Oréal has added an Argan Oil based, vegan range[10].  French brand Clarins has confirmed that their 88% “plant-based”, vegan range will not be sold in China[11] (who require products to be tested on animals by law).

Such brands have caused an outcry as they continue to allow animal testing on their other products in order to sell to the Chinese market and also produce many other products which contain animal ingredients, meaning that they get the best of both worlds. Many activists have called for the vegan labels to be removed from their products. Speaking of Unilever’s Dove, who controversially gained PETA cruelty free certification in late 2018, Claire Palmer a spokesperson for Animal Justice Project said: "Unilever continues to commission brutal and unnecessary animal experiments on mice and other animals within Chinese laboratories and possibly elsewhere." [12]


However, dare I say, are these not

steps in the right direction?

If we consider Matthew’s argument, by choosing to buy new ‘vegan’ or cruelty free products from Unilever, L’Oréal and Dove for example, we can use our consumer power to encourage further development and investment in this area of their business and reduce the demand for anything else. We all know that the interests and lives of animals are unlikely to be at the heart of these businesses but equally they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  

Yet for some reason I am still adverse to buy a ‘vegan’ product from Unilever’s Love Beauty and Planet beauty range but still quite happy to purchase Unilever’s Marmite or Danone’s Alpro milks (which I currently have stocked up in my cupboards by the way). But I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s because these brands dominate this sector of the food market at the moment whereas I know I have so much choice for vegan beauty products now in the UK and I would rather support the brands trying to do their bit, where I can.  


So how do we, as vegans,

decide what to buy?

“Will I make more impact by investing in a ‘vegan’ product from a large non-vegan, potentially unethical brand, or a truly vegan product from an independent, ethical brand?

 It’s a tricky question to ask ourselves and one which must be considered carefully.  As consumers, we have the power to make a conscious decision, and I believe we can begin to make a difference by choosing where to spend our money. I certainly am not going to beat myself up if I choose to buy one of Gregg’s famous vegan sausage rolls every now and again, but equally I vow to weigh up the options before me when and where I spend my pennies.

It’s certainly food for thought…

What are your thoughts on the issue? How do you decide where to draw the line when it comes to the big brands and their new, ‘vegan’ products?