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001 - Why have a vegan business?​

In this first episode, I’m going to start by answering a really fundamental question for anyone who has a vegan business (or is thinking about starting one) and that is – WHY?  Why are you doing this?  Why are we ALL doing this?  Why should you have a vegan business?  You might already have a great product, service, or idea for a vegan business, but maybe you’ve not got all the business skills or experience that you wish you had – and right now, that doesn’t matter.  Because what you DO have, that other business owners don’t, is a burning passion to make the world a better, fairer and cruelty-free place.  And no matter what else, that’s an AMAZING place to start.

In this episode, I take a look at the plant-based market as a whole and answer the question: who is really buying all these vegan products if vegans only make up one or two percent of the marketplace?  And I also ask: why do vegans have such a reluctance to make money from what they do – because let me tell you right now, you can do a lot more good in the world with a profit than with a loss!

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Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to the very first episode of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support you, inspire you, connect you with other vegan business owners – and give you the knowledge you need to build a successful vegan business.
 
And if you want to go beyond the podcast and connect with our community of like-minded vegan entrepreneurs or get support from myself and Lisa, then head over to Vegan Business Tribe .com where you will be welcomed with open arms.
 
OK, and welcome to episode one, which is just as exciting for me sitting here recording it as hopefully it will be for you listening to it – and in this episode I’m going to start by answering a really fundamental question for anyone who has a vegan business, or is thinking about starting one, and that is – WHY?  Why are you doing this?  Why are we ALL doing this?  Why should you have a vegan business?  And if you’ve got this far, by downloading this podcast and listening to me now, then you and I believe in the same mission. You might already have a great product, service, or idea for a vegan business, but maybe you’ve not got all the business skills or experience that you wish you had – and right now, that doesn’t matter.
 
Because what you DO have, that other business owners don’t, is a burning passion to make the world a better, fairer and cruelty-free place.  And no matter what else, that’s an AMAZING place to start.  Everything else you need to be successful, you can learn, or you can find. Now, I am assuming that you’re vegan yourself, or if not you’re well on the way to becoming so, and I don’t care if you first turned vegan for the environment, for your health or for the animals – most of us start a vegan business as our way to further the vegan cause.  It’s our way to align our ethics with how we make a living.
 
And maybe you want to help us move towards a vegan world by providing better vegan products.  Or it might be that you want to do something to make it easier for people to live a cruelty-free life.  Or maybe you run a vegan charity or animal shelter – it’s fair to say that most vegans who start a business do so with a mission at the heart of it.  And this goes back to our own vegan journeys – when you first turn vegan you start with what you eat, as that’s the really obvious place.  Then you take a look at the clothes you are wearing and how you can remove animal by-products from that, then you look at your cosmetics and toiletries, then perhaps your home and the wider world around you – then at some point you think about how you are spending your day, what you are doing with your career – can you use your skills and your passion as a way to further the vegan course and help other vegans?
 
And I’m going to start out with quite a controversial statement, but it’s backed up with hundreds of conversations I’ve had with members at Vegan Business Tribe, and it’s that vegans just don’t seem to like making money!  We think it’s unethical, especially if we’re trying to make money out of other vegans, or perhaps you think that commerce is the root of many of the world’s problems, and you may have a valid argument there, but the reality is: you can do FAR MUCH MORE good in the world with a profit than a loss.  And this is because your business CANNOT help us move towards a vegan world unless your business is successful and generating money.   If you run out of funds, or you burn out because you can’t take a sustainable living from your business without working ridiculous hours, then YOU cannot continue to help the vegan course.  Just having a vegan business is not enough.  You need to have a successful and PROFITABLE vegan business.
 
This is really important and something that you need to ‘bake-in’ to your business from the start: you need to succeed with your vegan business to actually make a difference.  Even if you have a charity, you need to attract income.  You still need to connect your organisation with enough people who believe in what you do to be able to keep doing it, and that’s why, if you have a vegan business, you should view it as your duty to the vegan movement to get better at doing business – and not feel dirty, or unethical, or sleezy for having a business that makes money.  Because there’s no point in having an amazing product that will change the world if that product never gets into anyone’s hands.  There’s no point in having a voice if it’s never heard.  And I will repeat the mantra again – you can do far more good with a profit than you can with a loss.  You can do so much more to further the vegan course if you are sustainably generating money, than if you are not.
 
And I know that there will also be some people listening to this who aren’t vegan. ‘Vegan’ and plant-based is a really-hot sector right now – and I regularly have people emailing me asking how welcome the vegan marketplace will be to someone selling a vegan product when they are not vegan themselves.  And if this is you, and you are listening to this podcast to find out how to better connect with and sell to vegans then I’ve got a special chair for you right here at the front.  I’m not going to lie, my heart will always be with companies founded and run by other vegans, but for us to make it easier for more people to turn vegan then we need to convince ALL companies that there is a demand and to provide vegan options and services – AND to take a look at their own ethics.  So, if you are not vegan and you’re listening to this – don’t worry, I’m not going to activate the hidden tracking app in this podcast so I can come find you, wrestle you to the ground and feed you Lisa’s homemade hummus until you convert, but I’ll make you a deal.  And it’s a deal that starts with a question:  Would you say you’re a firm believer in cruelty?
 
No, of course you’re not.  So, if you’re going to become a regular listener to learn all the secrets about the vegan consumer and how to sell to the vegan and plant-based marketplace, then that’s fine as long as you agree to take a look at why so many people are going vegan in the first place.  Go watch a couple of the documentaries that they have watched, go read a few of the articles that they have read, and…  see if you come to the same conclusion they did.
 
So, for the rest of us, let’s go back to that fundamental question – of why should you have a vegan business in the first place?  Maybe you’re already doing OK with your business, or maybe you’re just starting out, or maybe you already have a successful NON-VEGAN business and you’re thinking about converting to it being a vegan business but you’ve not quite convinced yourself yet.  Or perhaps you’ve been beating away at your vegan business for quite a while now and you’re just not seeing the results and wondering if you’re heading in the right direction?  Well, over the course of the coming podcasts we’re going to look at all of these scenarios and what you can do about it, but first let’s look at why so many people ARE launching businesses in the vegan marketplace.
 
And we can start with stats. Because, well, I love statistics.  And you should love them too.  Because when you look at the rise of veganism and plant-based consumers it’s a joyous sight!  We actually had a recent question in our Vegan Business Tribe mentoring forums asking if I could provide some stats of how interest has increased in veganism over the past few years, and my fingers were falling over themselves typing and copy and pasting links to surveys and studies!  So let’s take a look at some figures:
 
Globally, the number of vegans is somewhere between 1-3% of the population. Depending on how you measure that and depending on which studies you look at.  So that’s, what, about 150 million people globally identifying as vegan – that’s about the population of Russia.  And, somewhat randomly, it’s also about the number of people on the earth who have green eyes.  And that’s rising, year by year – the number of vegans that is, not people with green eyes.  Now those estimates come from a number of sources, mainly from Ipsos and The Vegan Society, but they don’t necessarily give the full picture.  What is really exciting – and the reason that I recommend getting involved in vegan as a business right now – is the direction of the TREND.  Larger studies have historically lumped vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians – so people who don’t eat land animals but still eat fish – all together.  This means that it’s hard to pull out historic data of how many people are vegan, but again looking at The Vegan Society’s estimates of how many vegans were in the UK we can see:
 
In 2014 – 150 thousand (which is about 0.25% of the UK population).  In 2016 – 276 thousand (or 0.46% of the population).  Then in 2019 when they did their last survey it was 600 thousand (or 1.16%).  You see there trend there?  And that’s just in the UK that has a relatively small population of 66 or 67 million.  The number of vegans has been doubling every two years – or what we call exponential instead of linear growth.  And there are some other really, well, FUN, stats you can use to see how the interest in veganism is increasing:
 
There are five times as many searches for ‘vegan’ on Google than five years ago.  Five times as many.  According to Mintel, 1 in four of all new food launches in 2019 made a vegan claim.  And one of my absolute favourite stats is Waterstones! In 2020 they currently have about 10 thousand books with the word ‘vegan’ in the title – if you had done that search back in 2018 you would have found less than a thousand.
 
Now this is great, but, hang on – because it doesn’t quite add up does it?  About 2 perhaps 3 percent of the population are vegan, but one in four food launches are catering for them?  30% of online food retailer’s Ocado’s ready-meals are vegan?  And if you don’t know Ocado, they are not a plant-based retailer, they sell to the whole marketplace.  So where is this demand coming from – well, this is the secret.  It’s NOT from vegans. Us vegans, if we have to, are quite capable of loading up our supermarket baskets from the veg aisle and getting to work with our sweet potatoes and tins of chickpeas to make some great meals.  The real market for plant-based products is actually from non-vegans. According to Kantar, who is one of the world’s leading data and insights organisations, 92% – yes,  nine two per cent – of vegan meals and foods are bought and eaten by non-vegans.  That is stunning.
 
Compare that with Beyond Meat.  They revealed that a staggering 93% of the people who are buying their plant-based Beyond Burger are not vegan, OR EVEN VEGETARIAN. And this is from their own research – they are consumers who are also purchasing meat products but, now, less of them. This was one of the first clear cases of a meat-alternative actively taking spend away from the meat sector. Their competitors, Impossible Foods, have also released similar statistics, showing that up to 95% of their customers are also meat-eaters, and they are now turning their technical talents to developing Impossible Milk that is indistinguishable from dairy – and I suspect that the customers for that will also be the general population too.
 
And this is the big secret to successful vegan companies.  Plant-based is no longer the niche sector it was 10 years ago, (or even 24 months ago) with ‘vegan’ now breaking into mainstream buying behaviour.  Research by World Vegan Day said that more than half of UK adults have now adopted some form of vegan buying behaviour without identifying as vegan or vegetarian. That might be meat-free days, consciously choosing plant-based substitutes or buying soy or oat milk instead of dairy for example.  In France, schools now need to provide, by law, one meat-free day for school children, and we’re seeing these changes coming in across the world.
 
So people ask me, well, why start up a vegan business?  If it’s all the meat-eaters buying up vegan products what do they care if I’m a vegan company.  Well – I am very glad you asked.  Because what started as a trend is now becoming the new normal, and it will only continue one way. NEVER, EVER, look down on someone buying vegan products who has not yet made the connection with the animals. 
 
Because once someone starts showing an interest in plant-based foods, for whatever reason, then the digital algorithms that run our lives start to kick into action.  “Ah”, thinks Google, “you’re searching for recipes of how to make a meat-free spag-bol, you must be Vegan!  This means you’re going to love this really popular video from Earthling Ed that I’ll cue up for you next time you’re on YouTube.” – And that’s, genuinely, how it works!  Someone who starts to show an interest in plant-based products will then start seeing all kinds of new information creeping into their digital lives that wasn’t there before.  I firmly believe that at the heart of veganism is compassion, and most people in the world are compassionate people, at heart.  And if you take a compassionate person, and you educate them about how the food REALLY got to their plate, or how the dairy milk got to their coffee, then once they know what you and I know – and what we REALLY know – they will refuse to support it, just like we did.  It’s only ever a one-way journey, and the more they learn, the more they will seek out vegan alternatives.
 
Take a look at the figures from Veganuary, which is a world-wide campaign to get people to try being vegan every January. In 2014 – 3,300 people signed up for the challenge. In 2020 it was 400,000.  And as more people go down the rabbit hole of veganism, the more companies are needed to support them.  And once you get all these vegan companies supporting them with new great products, then a whole new business ecosystem starts to appear.  Not only do you need vegan companies to support people wanting vegan products – but you need vegan services to give support to these vegan companies.  From vegan web designers through to vegan funding platforms, because if you are a vegan with a vegan business – then of course you want to buy business services from other vegan companies if you have the option.  If you have the option of an accountant who is vegan to an accountant who is not, which do you want to work with?  Which will understand you and your business’s ethics better?  Which will not keep questioning why you are doing what you are doing?  Which will give you that extra support because you’re on the same mission?
 
But this also means that ‘vegan’ has become big business.  All the main food manufacturers, cosmetics companies, fast-food chains, supermarkets, fashion brands, even luxury car companies, are all bringing out vegan and cruelty-free options.  Now you may look at this as a smaller vegan company and think you’ve got no chance.  That it means there’s no room to launch a new vegan product or to grow a vegan business.  But that COULD NOT BE further from the truth.  Would you say there’s no room for a local independent cafe in a town just because there’s also a Pizza Hut?  Think about the number of animal-based beef-burgers there are for sale at all the supermarkets – there are hundreds of different brands and manufacturers, maybe even thousands.  And we’re thinking that the vegan burger market is getting saturated because we’ve got Beyond Burger and Meatless Farm?  The plant-based marketplace is now perhaps only a quarter of what it might be in a couple of years – meaning there is PLENTY OF ROOM for you to get involved too.
 
Now, those large companies who took the early lead on understanding plant-based saw big returns. Gregg’s, the high street bakery here in the UK, released their annual report in 2019 showing that the high-profile launch of their vegan sausage roll helped drive a surge in customer numbers, generating a 15% rise in pre-tax profits. (and, as an aside, if you are not listening in the UK, then Greggs managed a brilliant PR campaign by copying Apple and also managing to really annoy Piers Morgan. I devote a whole section in our vegan marketing course to how they did it which is well worth reading).  It’s also worth pointing out however that Greggs launched their vegan sausage roll in a really well-researched way, for example, putting clear markings to distinguish their plant-based products from the animal ones, so that you knew as a customer you’d been given the vegan product.  They also had really well-researched operation procedures and staff-training meaning vegan consumers trusted them.  Other non-vegan companies have launched into the vegan market without such a clear understanding, got it wrong, and faced a consumer backlash against their brand as a result.
 
As a vegan company, this won’t happen to you because YOU are already an expert in vegan. YOU understand the ethics and behaviours that the big brands are still catching up on. But they WILL catch-up and we’re seeing more and more huge entries into the vegan marketplace – from Galaxy chocolate to Applewood Cheese.  What they don’t have however, is your passion to create a fairer, cruelty-free vegan world. These large brands are actively changing the marketplace to make it easier than ever for people to try plant-based – which is RESULTING in more people going plant-based – and we can ALL use that. 
 
You can combine your passion and ethics with the changing consumer landscape to create vegan products, services and companies that draw people further along their vegan journey.  If you make vegan products and services that people passionately care about and support, then you have never had a bigger available audience than you have now.  And if you’ve been sitting on the fence about launching a vegan product or business, or about ramping up what you already produce, then now is the time to hop down off that fence and get serious about it. The pandemic has moved the plant-based market forward by at least 12 months, if not more. There has never been so much interest in veganism and you will find a valuable new market of non-vegan customers who are taking those initial steps to reduce their reliance on animals products.  Connect with them, educate them, and use this new-found customer interest to build a more successful vegan business yourself.
 
So, to re-cap.  Let’s go right back to the question we started out with, of why should you have a vegan business and why are you doing this?  I want to start with the reminder that:
 
  1. A lot of vegans seem to have a problem with the idea of making money, that it’s unethical.  IT’S NOT – you can do far much more good in the world with a profit than you can with a loss.  And that leads us into…
  2. You need to make a business that is financially sustainable.  And that doesn’t matter if you sell a physical product, if you sell a vegan service or even if you are a charity.  You need to maintain a standard of income and life that means you don’t burn out.  Because if you do burn out and give up, you’re not helping us move the vegan cause forward.
  3. 2-3% of the population are vegan, but half of all consumers are buying some form of vegan products.  That means there’s a ridiculously huge marketplace out there right now, and it’s growing every year.
  4. That increase in opportunities for vegan businesses has lead to more opportunities for support services to serve these new vegan businesses.  Because vegan businesses like to do business with other vegan businesses if they have the opportunity.
  5. The pandemic has turbo-charged people’s awareness of our relationship with animals, leading more and more people to be open to plant-based.  And yes…
  6. This means the big companies are following.  But what that is really doing is making it easier for people to go plant-based and cruelty-free, so it’s actually making the market bigger for all of us.  And finally…
  7. You have a burning passion to make the world a better, fairer and cruelty-free place.  That’s something few other business owners have, so use that.
 
And I’m going to finish on that bit about passion. The real reason I give when someone asks me why you should have a vegan business is: the animals.  Now, you might be vegan yourself because you want to lessen your impact on the environment, or because it’s improved your health or fitness, but regardless of that, 200 million land animals were killed today for food.  That was just today.  And that’s without including sea life (which takes us to over 3 billion animals killed a day) or the 260 million dairy cows that are used as short term, throw-away, sentient commodities.  Now, I’m not comfortable with that – and I suspect that you are not either.  But we can’t change that unless we actively create that change.  And for some people, who we owe a real debt to, they are creating that change by hitting the streets, engaging with the public or demonstrating outside of the meat-processing plants.  For others, we’re furthering the vegan cause by changing the business environment.  We’re using our professional skill sets to bring about a vegan world, so we owe it to those animals who lost their life today, and those that will be killed tomorrow, to just GET BETTER at doing business to make it happen quicker.
 
That’s why we launched Vegan Business Tribe.  That’s why Lisa and I took our combined 40 years plus of marketing experience to create a course to teach people how to GET BETTER at marketing their vegan business.  That’s why we have our mentoring forum and run business clinics to help people get their vegan businesses off the ground.  Because it’s our way of furthering the vegan cause.  And why wouldn’t you want to align your personal ethics with how you make a living?  The vegan sector is the most friendly, welcoming and supportive sector you will ever run a business in.  Because we’re all on the same mission.  If you have a vegan business that’s in competition with me, I don’t care.  I don’t want to try and put you out of business, I want us both to succeed and will actually do what I can to link up with you and work out how we can succeed together.
 
And, really finally now, the main, number one reason you should have a vegan business is about your own authenticity.  If you run a vegan business, you can just be you. You no longer have to apologise for being the awkward vegan that means your friends and family have to change where they go out to eat.  You no longer have to hide the fact that you are vegan – you can ABSOLUTELY EMBRACE IT.  Personally and professionally.  People will know you are vegan without you having to bring it up – and that Viva La Vegan hoodie that you’d normally only wear if you went to a vegan fair can now be your everyday workwear.
 
So, that’s it for this first episode, and thank you so much for keeping with me right to the end.  I hope you enjoyed it, and if you did – head over to vegan business tribe.com where you can find lots more advice and support – or even join us at one of our live online sessions to see if we can help you make YOUR vegan business more successful, and help us get to that vegan world just one step quicker.

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