Has Big Business Hijacked Veganism – And Sold It Back To Us?

“I remember the days where a jacket potato and beans was as good as it got,” says Collette Gray as she peruses the groaning shelves of Waitrose’s vegan aisle. In 20 years of being a vegan, she has never encountered anything like this kind of choice at the supermarket – from jackfruit and kidney bean chilli sauce, to porcini and spinach ravioli, beet wellington and three different types of vegan pizza. “When I was first vegan, you had to source information through word of mouth or through research and leaflets out on demonstrations,” she reflects. “So I’m delighted and really excited by seeing it all.”

We are in the grip of a vegan revolution: a transformation of veganism from niche lifestyle choice for those who care about animal welfare and the environment, to a mainstream movement represented through more than 80m posts on Instagram; a rainbow stream of juicy “burgers” and bowls bursting with colour. And business is reaping the benefit of our compulsion to share our food habit online.

Veganism has exploded into a social-media fuelled wellness phenomenon and the UK is right at the centre. Adverts for vegan products jump from magazine pages and fill your timeline; everywhere there are new products to try. According to Mintel, an insights company that tracks supermarkets, more new products (by percentage) were labelled vegan in British supermarkets last year than anywhere else in the world. One in six products launched in the UK last year carried a vegan or animal products claim, it says: a figure that’s doubled since 2015.

The Vegan Society says there were 600,000 vegans in the UK in 2018 – four times as many as in 2014. And when even Greggs, famous for its cheap sausage rolls and steak bakes, gets in on the act – its vegan sausage roll was reportedly its fastest-selling launch in six years – it’s clear that both retailers and consumers think the future might be (at least partly) meat-free.  

In Waitrose, Gray appreciates the choice she now has when shopping. “This is quite a…

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