Are you 100% sure your product is vegan? (Part 1)
As a vegan business owner it’s your responsibility to ensure that all of your ingredients and manufacturing processes are vegan. Your company might not even survive the loss of trust that comes from accidentally selling someone a non-vegan product.
In the first of this two-part article, Lisa looks at how you can be 100% positive your product is actually vegan.
Ensuring your vegan products are 100% vegan
We’ve all seen the horror stories of people ordering vegan products and being accidentally served the non-vegan version. In stark contrast, when people buy a product or service from a vegan business they are certain they don’t need to be concerned about non-vegan elements. As a vegan business owner it’s your responsibility to ensure that all of your ingredients, manufacturing processes, or anything involved in the service you offer, is vegan.
I know you probably think that goes without saying. However, we all know that veganism is a journey and things that you thought were vegan a year ago you’ve since learned are not vegan. So, whether you’ve been vegan for 50 years or for 5 days, it’s really important that you keep checking (and double checking) everything you offer to ensure that your product or service is entirely vegan.
People often think that the only vegan businesses needing to consider these aspects are those who create products. However, the vegan hospitality industry such as vegan B&Bs and cafés need to consider more than just the breakfast they’re offering, and vegan virtual assistants and accountants need to think beyond the traditional ideas of what veganism is and what their vegan customers want from them.
In this part one, I’ll take a look at non-vegan elements in products – both the obvious and not-so-obvious. Then in part two I’ll cover additional elements you need to consider if you have a vegan hospitality business or a vegan service business. Note that if you do have a vegan hospitality business then you’ll likely also be serving other people’s products, so you should thoroughly read through this article also.
Obvious non-vegan elements in products
I’ve seen all sorts of things being advertised as vegan products which clearly are not. Albeit most of these are produced by non-vegan companies, I’ve also seen products from vegan companies where they’ve not understood veganism fully.
There have been sofas marketed as being vegan when they are in fact made from wool, vegan breakfast bars containing honey, and vegan chocolates which contain lactose-free milk.
If you are towards the start of your vegan journey and you’re creating a vegan business, then congratulations to you! However, please do make sure you go over everything with a fine toothcomb. If you need help then ask – we all want you to succeed!
The complexities of not-so-obvious non-vegan ingredients
This is where it gets tricky, and even long-standing vegans can get caught out. As vegans we never stop learning, and since we’re providing fellow vegans with vegan products or services it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re continually doing everything possible to get it right.
Complexities arise because with non-vegan ingredients it’s not only about what’s on the surface, such as the obvious non-vegan elements I discussed above. Ensuring that your ingredients are vegan can really take some digging; you need to know what to look for, and it’s not just obviously animal-derived ingredients.
I’ll give you some examples. If I see sugar in a product, then that makes me stop and investigate further because sugar can be filtered through bone char, in which case it is not vegan. Most sugar brands in the UK are vegan and are not filtered through bone char, whereas if you’re in the US it’s standard practice. Bone char is used frequently in other areas of the world to filter sugar, so it’s something you need to investigate and ask your suppliers about. For icing sugar, many popular brands worldwide contain dried egg white – I’m betting a lot of us haven’t even considered reading the ingredients on icing sugar for personal use!
Any use of citrus (from lemon juice to orange peel to lime fibre) is also potential cause for concern. Most citrus fruits are waxed to help extend their lifespan. The common wax used contains shellac, which is not vegan as it is a secretion of the female lac bug. Dextrose is also one to watch out for, since normal dextrose is vegan but cultured dextrose is not – so you need to be sure which type you’re using.
If you have a vegan hospitality business and you’re offering fizzy drinks (soda) to people, you may not know that Lilt, Fanta and Diet Pepsi are not vegan. Lilt contains fish gelatine, the dyes that Fanta uses for their drinks are tested on animals, and Diet Pepsi contains a non-vegan element (the producers do not wish to disclose this in detail). This is why if you go to somewhere like Pizza Hut and they have a multi-drink dispenser, none of the dispenser drinks will appear on their vegan menu (and your server should tell you if you try to order one) because of the risk of cross contamination between the vegan and non-vegan drinks; they offer bottled drinks instead to eliminate these risks.
Vitamin D is also a tricky one, as it can be from an animal-derived source (lanolin aka sheep’s wool) or a vegan source (lichen). This is where many non-vegan hotels fail on their offer of breakfast cereals as their vegan breakfast options, because the majority of them are actually not vegan because they contain animal-derived vitamin D. There’s no reason a non-vegan would know that these cereals aren’t vegan because there’s nothing obvious in the ingredients, and from their perspective why would any vitamin not be vegan? Even towards the beginning of our vegan journeys this is one which has caught a lot of us out. So, if you have a vegan B&B and you’re serving cereals as an option, do a double check to ensure they’re definitely vegan.
Are you using produce which is grown biodynamically?
If you use any parts of fruits or vegetables either as ingredients for your product or as a product itself then you need to be aware that if they are grown using biodynamic agricultural processes then the resulting produce is not vegan by The Vegan Society’s standards. Some examples of biodynamic farming processes are burying cow horns, cow intestines and deer bladders to then later use them in other farming processes. This is a step beyond just using fertilisers that contain animal manure – so because this is an extra step taken deliberately, The Vegan Society we would not accept any crops (or products using such crops as ingredients) grown biodynamically.
Ask the farm directly if their produce is grown biodynamically, even if this means having to go quite a way down the supply chain. So, going back to thinking about citrus, you need to ensure the fruit is not waxed using shellac and hasn’t been grown biodynamically – even if all you’re using in your product is lemon juice.
Note that a lot of produce which is identified as ‘organic’ is grown using biodynamic agricultural processes.
Most citrus fruits are waxed to help extend their lifespan. The common wax used contains shellac, which is not vegan as it is a secretion of the female lac bug
So that you can investigate further, two great links to lists of animal-derived ingredients are:
There are many other good sources on the internet, and I’m not going to even attempt to say that the above are exhaustive lists – I have yet to find one, which is why we’re all constantly learning! I would advise using multiple trusted sources and asking advice from an organisation such as The Vegan Society.
Also, you don’t want to forget about E numbers. Many E numbers are not vegan, and these are definitely hidden non-vegan elements. See a great resource list of non-vegan E numbers here: www.veganeasy.org/food/food-additives/
For food products, this is my own list of non-vegan ingredients built up over the years:
- Cod liver oil
- Dextrose (cultured isn’t vegan, natural is)
- Diglycerides (maybe)
- E120 Carmine
- E322 Lecithin (maybe)
- E422 Glycerol (maybe)
- E441 Gelatine
- E469 Sodium caseinate
- E471 Fatty acids (maybe)
- E542 Bone phosphate
- E631 Disodium inosinate maybe)
- E901 Beeswax
- E904 Shellac
- E910 L-cysteine
- E913 Lanolin
- E920 L-cysteine
- E921 L-cysteine
- E966 Lactitol
- E1000 Cholic acid
- E1105 Lysozyme
- E1518 Glycerol Mono
- Glycerin/glycerol (maybe)
- Lactic acid (maybe)
- Monoglycerides (maybe)
- Omega 3 (maybe)
- Potassium caseinate
- Rennet casein
- Royal jelly
- Stearic acid (maybe)
- Vitamin D (maybe)
- Vitamin D3
Note where it states (maybe) it’s because it depends on the source, and so may or may not be vegan. Further investigation will be required – ask the manufacturer for more information.
Thinking around your products
One of our friends at The Vegan Society told us that one company tried to have a product certified as vegan even though they were shipping it in knitted wool packaging. The product itself was vegan, but the packaging was clearly not. This is an obvious example of how to get it wrong, but how much have you investigated the packaging you’re using either to encase the product itself, or to send it to your customers? Many glues are made from animal-derived ingredients, so If you’re using anything which may contain glue then this is something you’ll need to ask your suppliers about. In fact, you should make it a habit to ask any supplier about the constituents of their packaging elements to ensure they’re vegan.
If you haven’t already, then this might also be a good time to consider sustainable eco-friendly packaging. Many vegans are also concerned about the environment and are willing to pay a little extra to help to cover the cost of you providing eco-friendly packaging for your products. If you’re unsure about this, why not do a survey amongst your customer-base? As customers we like to feel we’re heard and that the companies we purchase from care about us, so there’s nothing better than including them on your journey and in your decision-making process.
Do your suppliers understand what vegan is?
This is where it starts to become more complex. You may ask your suppliers if their product is vegan, and if they’re vegan themselves then of course they’ll reply with the affirmative and be knowledgeable enough to give evidence of that (bear in mind they may or may not know about the above complexities though). However, for non-vegan companies it’s going to be difficult. Even if they state that what they’re supplying to you is vegan, how can you be sure? They may be supplying you with something as simple as tomatoes, and from their perspective how would a tomato not be vegan? However, we all know that many things may not be as vegan as they initially seem.
If what you’re purchasing from your suppliers hasn’t been through a vegan certification process (such as The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark), then you’re going to have to do a little hard work and investigation yourself. Most of this hinges on education. You’re going to need to help them to understand what vegan means, and that it’s not just about animal-derived ingredients – it’s also about no animal testing being involved in the final product or its ingredients, and no risk of cross-contamination. The vegan ingredient you purchase from them may be processed on the same line as non-vegan ingredients; the vegan bread you buy from a local bakery may be kneaded on the same surface that the croissants were prepared on 5 minutes earlier with no real clean-down between changeover of products. Help them to understand and you’re at least half-way there.
It’s a good idea to at least send them the link to The Vegan Society’s information on the definition of veganism to help them to understand: www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
You can’t claim that you are a vegan business if you’re not 100% certain that your products that you sell, or offer as part of your hospitality business, are vegan. So, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you don’t give your faith to non-vegan suppliers if they say a product or ingredient is vegan without giving evidence or understanding. Make sure you also go through the same process with your vegan suppliers – you never know when they may not fully understand the above, and it’s best to be safe than sorry.
Risk of cross contamination
I mentioned briefly already about cross-contamination risks at your suppliers’ premises. However, you also need to ensure you’re managing this in your own premises. If you’re making vegan soap in your kitchen and your partner drinks cow’s milk, then what are you doing to ensure that there is no cross-contamination in that area? Are you doing a full clean down of all surface areas you’ll be touching (as well as sterilisation of all equipment) just prior to making the products? Even if you are doing a full clean-down, are you using vegan cleaning products?
You need to fully think through every stage of the journey of your product-making process. Even if you have a disclaimer that your product ‘may contain milk’, that’s no excuse to be anything other than entirely thorough. When vegans purchase a vegan product, they’re putting their faith in you to eliminate the chance that anything of yours that they consume or use will conflict with the vegan lifestyle. It’s up to us to ensure we never let them down.
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