Last fortnight, there was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding the word ‘vegan’. While our skipper Virat Kohli claimed he was vegetarian on social media, his fans and the media claimed he was vegan, but some eggs entered the equation. Our skipper, like many of us, is a flexitarian with a confused vocabulary.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on the other hand, invited a backlash when it asked Amul, India’s favourite dairy brand, to go vegan. PETA had forgotten to take into consideration the fact that not only is India the world's largest dairy producer, which means that a mind-boggling number of people depend on it, but that it was born of an inspiring collective cooperative movement with a strong focus on rural women’s empowerment. Wrong choice, PETA.
OF MOCK MEATS AND MYLKS
Having said that, the term ‘vegan’, according to Google trends, was one of the most searched in 2020. The number of vegans in the United States has gone up 600% in the last five years (of course, it starts from a small base). While I found it difficult to get data for India, I hear enough anecdotally of mock meats, new vegan beauty launches and the rise of nut mylks to know that there is a definite and growing interest in the premium segment of the market. Certainly, veganism has led to many exciting food innovations. I love a jackfruit burger and tempeh bacon and could happily eat those instead of an animal-based version, but I still like my palak paneer (no, tofu does not cut it) and fried pomfret; so I am not there yet and probably never will be.
IT'S COOL TO BE VEGAN
Veganism has been around for a very long time as a niche alternative lifestyle. Now, it's trending, it's fashionable, it's cool and vegan advocacy is led by young people. When young people own a trend, it could mean huge markets, huge profits and big brands entering the picture. The vegan universe now comprises dairy-free foods, alternative meats, vegan clothing, vegan beauty, vegan wines and yes, even vegan coffee. Veganism is the new organic, but the numbers indicate it is not a passing trend. It may be an exciting new vertical for your consideration. Words like post milk generation, alt protein and mylk (non-dairy milk) may soon enter mainstream vocabulary.
There is no better indicator of a food trend entering the mainstream than the fact that both McDonald’s and Dominos are testing vegan options. Or that Starbucks already offers soy and oat milk lattes. Unilever mentions on their corporate website that they have invested in Vegan Butcher, a Dutch-based alternative meat brand and Plum, an Indian vegan beauty brand. Vegan beauty is a big trend – The Body Shop, an iconic beauty brand that changed hands from French giant L’Oréal to Brazil’s Natura, has said it will be fully vegan by 2023. Swedish oat milk brand Oatly had a dream IPO recently (March, 2021) which gave it a $10 billion valuation and its early angel investors included Oprah Winfrey and Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Advertising folks will know it, because its quirky advertising got a lot of coverage and attracted some controversy. Even Hermes, the home of the classic cult luxury pure leather Birkin and Kelly bags, has experimented with a vegan limited edition of the Victoria travel bag made from mushroom leather. The reason I reel off these factoids - and there are many more to be found if you search - is to show the range of the vegan universe.
CALL YOURSELF FLEXITARIAN
What does this mean? If you are a true vegan, you are probably horrified at this marketing take-over. McDonald’s may have a vegan burger, but it hasn’t stopped serving its beef burger or chicken burgers, so it is not a truly vegan company.
Veganism is a world view and a lifestyle choice. It shuns all animal and animal-derived products. That includes dairy, meat, leather, silk, honey to begin with. It is against animal testing and cruelty to animals. It strongly advocates a plant-based diet. You can go deeper into the philosophy, but this gives you some idea. Vegan has become a cool term to use, but you will be called out if you use it too loosely. Next time you put your vegan credentials on the table, remember to move your expensive leather handbag off the table. Or just call yourself a flexitarian.
(The author has been Regional Creative Director, Ogilvy and has devoted many column inches and years to advertising and brands.)
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)