I’ve been noticing an interesting trend over the past few weeks surrounding what people really think about veganism.
I think non-vegans are jealous.
Hear me out: this is a very Canada-centric market survey, since that’s where I live, but the BlackBerry was invented up here, so I’m going to assume that we live in a staging ground for all other new things. 🙂
Lately, I’ve seen not one, but two powdered meal replacement products in store windows that specifically branded themselves as vegan, right in the name of the product. Contrast that against Vega, which I’ll submit as the best-known vegan entrant in this category, which only mentions veganism once, and that’s in the fine print.
But those are still niche products compared to the one I want to talk about today.
In Canada, we’ve got a margarine caled Becel. In the US it’s sold under the name of “Promise Buttery Spread,” which is kind of weird, and it’s only got 3 varieties available, but here in Canada there are something like eight styles to choose from.
It’s quite possible that these varieties will spread (sorry) to the United States and elsewhere. This would be kind of cool, because one of them is called Becel Vegan.
We usually buy Earth Balance, which is sold in a different section of the grocery store for some reason, so the only reason I know about Becel Vegan is because I saw an ad for it on TV. That’s right, I saw them say “vegan” in a TV commercial like it was a good thing.
(By the way, this isn’t an ad for Becel. It’s made by Unilever, a company which has generated many criticisms, including animal testing, and part of me suspects they’re just doing this launch to win shelf space back from Earth Balance, but that’s just my business paranoia talking. Today we’re all about the rebranding of the word vegan, is all.)
So here’s what’s interesting about this new crop of vegan products: most of them come from fairly big companies, which means that they have at least one staffer on board who passed grade 4 math. Vegans are something like 1% of the population of the USA and Canada. Let’s look at just the USA for a second: 307 million people, times 1%, is a little over 3 million vegans. It’s not a small number, but then again, there are more members in the National Rifle Association (4 million.) Sure, there are probably some vegans in the NRA, and I can’t picture a margarine company making a product variant geared for gun lovers (actually, I can, but that’s another story,) but my point is that there are a lot of markets that are a lot larger if you’re looking to diversify.
I’ve said for a while that most “vegan” products aren’t really targeting the vegan market anyway (there’s no way we’re drinking all the soy milk, for example,) and this is just another example of this, but it’s also a sign of awesomeness to come.
Want more proof? Here’s a banner ad I found for Becel Vegan:
Notice that it didn’t look like this:
No, it used words like “simple goodness,” and I think that this is the start of a new positioning. I can’t emphasize enough how important the public shift to words like “green,” “simple,” and “good” are when it comes to veganism, and yes, some of that might be marketing hype, but marketers tell people what they want to hear, and I believe that it all leads to this New Truth:
People are jealous of vegans.
In the past, and yes, still today, veganism was considered an extreme option. People are much less likely to do things that they think are extreme, or maybe more importantly, that their peers think are extreme.
So what’s extreme? Something’s extreme if it’s hard to do. It still might be good for you, but if it’s extreme, it’s simply not seen as attainable for the majority of people. Once it becomes easy, it’s no longer extreme, and then it’s attainable.
Technology (and yes, capitalism) is making veganism easier every day. Go talk to someone who was vegan in the 70’s, when you needed to buy The Book of Tofu, not because of the recipes, but because it told you how to make the stuff in case there wasn’t a specialty shop in your area. There are a lot of us who, if we’re honest, might never have even considered veganism under those circumstances – knowing what we’d know then, not what we know now.
When veganism gets easier for Bob from Accounting, veganism gets easier for all of us – both as consumers and as members of society.
It’s going to take some time, but I think we’re reaching a sweet spot where veganism, or at least aspects of it, are going to be sought out by more and more people, because they can. It’s a “want this? Do this” kind of transaction, with hardly any friction – it’s simply a matter of picking a different, yet almost identical product from the store shelf.
Yes, there are some pitfalls yet to face, including a growing number of “sometime vegans” who’ll eat their veggie burgers with bacon, and it’ll continue to be a battle to get people switched off of some products.
In the meantime, we’ve graduated from “hardcore granola eating hippies” to “clean, simple, good.” There nothing wrong with granola, of course, but let’s take a moment to enjoy the shift.