Why Don't Food Companies Label Their Products as Vegan?
Photo by Camille Lamb.
As a relatively new vegan, I'm always on the lookout for convenient foodstuffs that allow me to feel like a semi-normal human. At the buffet of life, no one wants to be relegated to a lonely spot by the salad bar.
The good news is there are lots of easily available products that fit the vegan bill. What amazes me, however, is that companies aren't marketing them as vegan. Hence the label "accidentally vegan," a term applied to products that just-so-happen to be vegan. There are several items that meet this criteria, but almost none are advertised as such.
This is a major marketing blunder by the companies involved. After all, vegans are willing to spend extra cash on what they eat -- why so little love from the big brands?
Admittedly, vegans are still a small percentage of the population. Research suggests it's around 2%. But the number is steadily growing. There's no doubt there's an expanding market for meatless eats.
So why are so many companies failing to label their foods as vegan?
Because there are no official regulations in the U.S. (yet!) governing the designation of vegan or vegetarian foods, it's up to the companies themselves to choose how to identify their products. At this point, all they'd have to do is add the term "vegan" or "vegan-friendly" or whatever else they choose on the label. The only official FDA requirement is to be "truthful and not misleading." (To be clear, a "certified vegan," label does involve a process. That's an additional hurdle to jump if a company wants an official designation, and it comes with a fee.)
For anyone who faces confusion in the grocery store, the Vegan Society offers an easy flowchart to help determine whether any given product is vegan.
But why should it be so hard? Seriously, corporate America (and small businesses, too!) -- it would take minimal effort to add a vegan designation to your already-vegan products. A little extra ink and you'd be opening yourself up to a whole new segment of the population that's willing to shell out the benjamins for ethical eats.
To make my point, here are a few mainstream examples of "accidentally vegan" products. You'd never know that these products were animal-product-free unless you do in-depth research and examine the entire ingredients list. Surprise!
- Lay's Potato Chips (plain, and some select flavors)
- Oreos (seriously!)
- Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (most flavors)
- Ritz Crackers
- Thomas New York Style Bagels (some flavors)
- Cap'n Crunch cereal
- Wrigley's gum (most varieties)
Note: There is the additional issue of refined white sugar. Some cane sugar is filtered with charcoal that contains animal bones (bone char) -- and manufacturers don't have to disclose that info. Which sucks. But at some point it comes down to an issue of personal purity. My consumption of processed foods -- and sugar in particular -- is very limited. And I tend to stand by PETA's opinion on the matter:
"While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals."
It's really up to each of us as individuals what level of purity we choose to maintain. To be completely safe, we should probably avoid all store-bought foods altogether and grow everything in our own organic, non-GMO, sustainably fertilized backyard gardens. Right.
In the meantime, I wish manufacturers would make a little more of an effort to market their products to vegan consumers. With almost no investment on their end, they could reach a whole new audience. Isn't that what capitalism is all about? Maximizing profits? Finding new markets? Boosting sales? Duh.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.