Last year, you would be hard-pressed to go on social media without seeing the latest and greatest plant-based products that were being launched or the most recent celebrity that decided to live the vegan life! Last year was also a huge year for new business partnerships. Many small vegan companies partnered up with larger corporations that did not share or adhere to the same no animal use or ingredient policies.
In April of last year, Danone, one of the world’s top dairy companies, acquired WhiteWave, the parent company of So Delicious, Silk, Alpro, and Vega, for $10 billion (yes, that is billion with a “B”). They are now known as DanoneWave and produce both dairy and plant-based products.
In July, Daiya Foods, a Canadian plant-based cheese company, was acquired by Otsuka for $325 million. Otsuka is a Japanese pharmaceutical company that tests on animals, the reason behind major backlash among supporters on social media.
In September, Nestlé USA, the world’s largest dairy producer, acquired Sweet Earth Foods, a plant-based foods company that is well-known within the vegan community for their Benevolent Bacon, frozen vegan burritos and meat alternatives.
Back in October, the Campbell Soup Company joined the Plant Based Food Association, an organization with nearly 100 company members whose mission is to “Engage in education, public relations, and media outreach to increase visibility for plant-based foods and boost consumer acceptance,” as well as to advance the plant-based food market. Board members of the Plant Based Food Association are comprised of heavy hitters within the industry including executives from The Tofurky Company, Follow Your Heart, Daiya Foods, Upton’s Naturals and Miyoko’s Kitchen. The Campbell Soup Company includes brands like Swanson, Prego, and Campbell’s Chunky, which produce many products that contain animal ingredients.
In November of 2017, Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian packaged meat producer, acquired Field Roast for $120 million. This partnership mirrors the same issues of the Tyson/Field Roast partnership. Tyson Foods, Inc., one the world’s largest animal protein producers, invested in Beyond Meat during the last quarter of 2016.
At the very end of 2017, Impossible Foods agreed to partner with Dot Foods to expand the distribution of their products, most notably The Impossible Burger. This partnership with the nation’s largest food (which includes animal products) redistributor will make the Impossible Burger available in all states.
During the first few days of 2018, it was announced that TGIFriday’s is carrying The Beyond Burger in almost 500 locations, making this highly sought-after burger available throughout the United States. TGIFriday’s is a chain restaurant known for their ribs, burgers, and chicken wings.
Let’s not forget that Ben and Jerry’s released a variety of vegan “Non-Dairy Pints” that are just as decadent as their dairy flavors. Häagen-Dazs released their own vegan flavors soon after. McDonald’s launched their McVegan burger in Sweden and Finland and Dominos Australia debuted several varieties of vegan pizza featuring plant-based Mozzarella cheese from Follow Your Heart, the masterminds behind Vegenaise and VeganEgg. Of course, I have to mention the Nike commercial that featured the talented Boston Celtics player, Kyrie Irving, who attributed his athletic performance to his plant-based lifestyle.
With all of these seemingly contradictory partnerships (from an animal rights standpoint), where exactly do “ethical vegans” stand?
On one side, people insist that buying vegan products from companies with partners that benefit from the exploitation and slaughter of animals is just as harmful as buying animal products in the first place. This would clash with their ethical standpoint that animals are not to be used as a commodity. Some people who disagree with this stance and also adamantly oppose the cruel and unnecessary meat and dairy industries, urge consumers to broaden their views to focus on shifting the landscape of the food industry as a whole by supporting the companies in these partnerships.
It is true, that the profits of these vegan companies contribute to their partners that harm animals. It is also true that there are more vegans than ever before, but not enough to control the food industry (yet!). It is important to point out that not all consumers of plant-based foods abstain from the use of animal products for ethical reasons. They do so purely for health and/or environmental reasons, so the partnerships between vegan and non-vegan companies have no influence on their purchases.
Generally speaking, small companies have difficulty with production, distribution, and marketing. Large companies and corporations, whether vegan or not, can help to remedy those problems. Partnerships help to make plant-based options available to more people in more locations, therefore helping the vegan movement grow. By having more plant-based options on the shelves, people that are curious about these products and/or those that may not have been exposed to them can discover the delicious world of meat, dairy, and egg alternatives.
With every dollar you spend, you are voting for the kind of world that you want to live in. Of course, there are valid reasons to consider on both sides of this issue. Many vegans choose to live this lifestyle to eliminate the unnecessary suffering of animals and do not want their money contributing to it. On the other hand, it is safe to say that most vegans want the world to accept and adopt a vegan lifestyle, which is much easier to do when plant-based products are easily accessible to the public.
In my opinion, it is short-sighted to completely disregard companies in partnerships such as these. It would stop the momentum and unprecedented progress that the vegan movement has seen over the past several years. Six percent of Americans now identify as vegan, which is nearly a 3% increase from 2014!
Sure, it would be wonderful to simply and exclusively buy vegan products from 100% vegan companies that are sold at exclusively vegan supermarkets. For the vast majority of the world, this is not yet possible, but as more people accept (and love) these products, this dream can become a reality. As the demand for plant-based options increases, major corporations will have no choice but to follow suit if they hope to survive.
Personally, I highly prefer to purchase items from independent vegan companies such as Earth Balance, yet all of their fantastic products are not readily available near me (hence, the distribution problem discussed earlier). However, I believe that supporting (or at least not disparaging) partnerships between vegan and major corporations is vital when it comes to keeping the vegan movement alive and strong.
One thing is for certain, the fact that this is an issue to be debated is a sign of progress within the food industry and society today.