Making a mark

Lisa Fox discusses why it makes business sense to verify a product with The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark

Many food producers are discovering that entering the vegan marketplace makes business sense. The sector is fast expanding and the right vegan product can attract a premium price. Furthermore, plant-based products are enjoyed by people who would never consider a fully vegan diet. More than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are now vegetarian or vegan (according to a panel of 30,000 people surveyed by Kantar Worldpanel, January 2018).

The Covid-19 pandemic will turbo-charge this trend and two factors stand out. First, more British consumers are joining the conversation about their relationship with the environment. And second, panic buying early in the crisis led to food shortages including eggs and milk. That meant widespread experimentation with other ingredients, including plant-based, in order to cook well at home and replicate favourite dishes and bakes.

For a food brand, the addition of a vegan range demonstrates inclusivity and sustainability. Many shoppers want to eat plant-based products some of the time, or their children or visitors might.

New opportunity
Not only is the vegan market expanding fast, but a great plant-based product can command a premium price like the Galaxy chocolate bar at £3 which is virtually indistinguishable from the classic original. Vegan consumers are loyal and engaged and they look for authentic plant-based foods. So it is worthwhile taking the trouble to verify a vegan product, which means registering for the ‘gold standard’ – The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark. This rigorous process ensures any product carrying the logo is truly vegan in all its ingredients and throughout its manufacture.

The process of registering is not complicated but it is a thorough one. For example, whilst genetically-modified organisms are permitted, no animal ones are. Every ingredient must be vegan and it is easy to make mistakes because animal-derived ingredients can be hidden. For example, many E numbers can be animal derivatives or an additive such as vitamin D can derive from lanolin, which comes from sheep wool. There must be no cross-contamination from non-vegan products during manufacture. But this doesn’t necessarily require separate production lines, just thorough cleaning between vegan and non-vegan runs.

Northern Bloc’s experience
Thorough was certainly the experience of ice-cream manufacturer, Northern Bloc, which launched its first vegan lines in Spring 2018 and started the registration process early that year. But the company did not find it particularly onerous as Liena Wright, Head of Marketing, explains: “The all-natural raw ingredients we use to create our ‘can’t believe it’s vegan’ ice creams are already scrutinised by us, so it was straight forward – we’d essentially already had all the research done and had answers to the questions we were asked!”

Well aware that retailers’ ice cream freezers are typically not well segregated in terms of dairy and vegan, the company decided it was important for its tubs to clearly state the flavours are authentically vegan. The answer was the easily recognised Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark.

The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark
Interest in registering has surged, which is why many companies are using an official agent to discuss the process before their application is submitted directly to The Vegan Society. Promote Vegan are the sole, official UK agents for The Vegan Trademark. Registration is open to food, drink and ingredients manufacturers.

There are four steps. First, a self-audit to ensure the product will meet the basic requirements: no animal-derived ingredients; no animal testing in any part of product development or manufacture; reducing the chance of cross-contamination as much as possible; no animal genes in any GMOs.

Second, is determining the cost of registration; the factors include the company’s turnover, the complexity of ingredients and how many products are to be registered, which is why it can be useful to engage with an agent such as Promote Vegan to help determine this. Third, a quotation is given by The Vegan Society and if accepted, the fee is paid in full and, fourth, the verification process starts in earnest, which can take up to two months depending on the complexity of the product.

Liena Wright notes that registration has been beneficial in the retail space: “We feel it gives the customer reassurance and it’s a trusted mark. Having gone through the very thorough application process, we feel proud to have it on our product.”

So has registration achieved what Northern Bloc hoped? Liena concludes: “Yes and more. In terms of the vegan marketplace, for us it was not a case of jumping on a vegan bandwagon. We are proud to have the trademark on our product and it gives our customers and retail buying teams reassurance too.”

Lisa Fox is Founder and Director of Promote Vegan. Promote Vegan consults with food companies to give them a deep understanding of plant-based and vegan consumers’ motivations and buying behaviours, as well as helping companies achieve The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark. The starting point is usually the ‘executive chat’ service that enables managers to make informed decisions in this sector.