VEGA News Item

Green Planning and New Vegetarianism: V-less, maybe; but Vital and Vibrant - 22/02/2006
“Vegetarian foods invariably position themselves as niche products, failing to exploit the change in sentiment towards alternative protein sources” states The Grocer (18 February 2006) focusing on the Better-for-you (“Healthy living is as hip as ever”) sector of the food market.

“Vegetarian foods invariably position themselves as niche products, failing to exploit the change in sentiment towards alternative protein sources” states The Grocer (18 February 2006) focusing on the Better-for-you (“Healthy living is as hip as ever”) sector of the food market.

1. In a focus 2 weeks before, The Grocer appraised the vegetarian market (“Meat-free not just for vegetarians”) and reported “Some discomfort in the trade at the sudden dominance in vegetarian foods of Premier Foods, who acquired Marlow Foods (makers of Quorn Products) and Cauldron Foods. (Premier Foods is heavily involved in various aspects of the food trade and has been well-known in the retail market as Crosse and Blackwell and has attracted notoriety in its general operations in connexion with the misuse of Sudan Reds as coloring agents). “Premier has secured a fifth of the UK’s £657 million meat-free market, making it by far the biggest branded player in a field led by own label”, notes The Grocer). The future of Linda McCartney frozen veggie foods, now in the possession of Heinz, is, like the decline of the frozen foods sector generally e.g. Unilever’s plans to unhitch the Birds Eye subsidiary), a signal of lacklustre prospects.

2. Cranks on a new turn
We have already observed the coyness of Cauldron Foods in use of the vegetarian word on its packaging: the only statement on the packages is that they are approved by the Vegetarian Society. Quorn has dropped the v-word from its marketing, which emphasizes “its meat-free and relatively healthy low-fat credentials”, reports The Grocer. “And that’s a stance that is understood by Cranks the ‘eat good, feel good’ brand that emerged from Britain’s most famous vegetarian restaurant. Eighteen months ago the brand was repositioned minus any vegetarian tag and it has proved phenomenally successful”. The famous restaurant in London’s fashionable Carnaby Street, the first of a select group with branches and imitators in the UK and in other countries, set the pace in innovative veggie-style catering embracing strong organic and salad bar healthy and tasty offerings years before the Food Standards Agency was created and added its testimony to such trends. Most of the restaurants have closed, some even suffering the ignominy of a lurch into the flesh pots, but the products are on general retail sale: “after kicking off with bread and a few sandwiches the Cranks brand now extends to salads, wraps, smoothies, and juices – not a nut roast in sight – sold through foodservice as well as retail. And the company has just won a listing in Tesco for a range of pasta sauces” (Tesco is by far the major retailer in the veggie-style market and it cultivates the loyalty of those of its veggie-style customers with appropriate service, vouchers, and special offers).

3. Pushing the Boat Out
The criticism of the veggie-trade for its lack of innovation and enterprise is apt and especially arresting for those campaigners who, now remembering the enormous success of the launch 30 years ago this month of the Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land and its exemplary offshoot in the form of a Campaign for Real Bread. The glory and influence that might easily have been maintained in concerted research and example by outward-looking campaigners – and emphasized by subsequent disasters in the live/deadstock industry, such as zoonotic diseases (salmonellas, E coli, and BSE for example, and the spread of viral scourges (foot-and-mouth disease prominent among them and avian flu threatening)) – were frittered away in unworthy compromises over issues of non-human animal welfare and proliferations of fragmented groups marginalizing an undisciplined array of self-regarding fractions in the food market. And the live/deadstock industry has enjoyed lavish subsidies, grants, and preferences to resile from the disasters; and partial reformers with fancy labels, and approvals have induced a false sense of improvement. The Vegetarian Society that took to the streets of London every Christmas to march to the Royal Smithfield Show, and the market monitors who took the part of the animals going through markets and auction rings and dealerships and for journeys to distant slaughterhouses – that enthusiasm has mostly been lost into a stupor of cheesytarianism or into a flurry of precious and untutored philosophizing or into the lamentable pits of terrorism.

So the v-words seem due for oblivion in the new markets for special foods and health. The two Grocer articles have barely a word between them for the influence on consumers of the Green Plan concerns for non-human animals, wildlife, and the environment – the Quality of Life against meretriciously High Standards of Living (on the Cheap), as the Green Plan argued. True, some of the neglected veggie initiatives have been subsumed into other “half way” missions. Thus, Belinda Mitchell, co-founder of Simply Organic, opines that “there will always be a core of pure vegetarians whose numbers may be steady or rising a little, but the main growth is coming from the healthy-eating ‘demi-veg’ population – the meat reducers for health reasons rather than the no-meaters for reasons of principle.” She remains “unsure that Premier Foods’ gobbling up of Quorn and the more traditionally vegetarian brand Cauldron is good for the true veggie consumer. It could lead to less choice”, she says. The signs are already there: the dairy-industry has a lot of products, co-products, and by-products to dump on a costive market, which will be insinuated increasingly in the compliant and contaminated veggie-style products. Quorn’s move into snacking and meat-free microwaveable pizzas, satay sticks, and chicken-style dippers look like boosting sales of meat-frees but the future for the smaller producers catering for core cruelty-free “real” veggies calls for redoubled endeavour and invention.

4. Leading Lights on Labels
The articles in The Grocer appreciate only some of the factors in veggie message, inspiration, and observance, even if it rightly describes the continuing blurring of the veggie words and categorization. They are becoming otiose: a veggie-style consumer will have to examine labels and participate effectively in the efforts at improving labelling, especially descriptions of free-froms and dairy-free and meat-free declarations, which should elicit desistance and resistance from canny customers demonstrating at the cash point and in the sales figure muscle to influence even the mightiest of the manufacturing world. Some of the FSA’s schemes of labelling and profiling foods will aid these salutary endeavours: The Grocer’s appraisals overlook the assumption by many customers and the trade that veggy-style products – even those dubiously approved or endorsed by agents of questionable competence and resources – really belong, like the objectionable products of which they are look-alikes or taste-alikes, to the junk-food bin. The present disagreements between the FSA and the food-industry over labelling issues and claims at least offer consumers the chance to flex their muscles more effectively and better informed.

The Grocer’s assessments interestingly – and sadly – neglect motivations among consumers that pertain to the sociological and community issues; indeed, the oversights insult a population fortunate enough to pick and choose in the food market with more discretion than exerting a deranged appetite for cheap and convenient gut-fill. This commitment in manufacturing and marketing terms is being recognized by the major players, who are heeding Green Planning developments more effectively than the many NGOs and charities who massage their own precious virtues with inept recitations of the creed, but with scant appreciation of the real world. Year-on-year reductions by the British public of animal-derived foods and manufacturing materials by, say 10%, would achieve a relief of abuse to “Gaia” much greater than a conversion of all those “core”, “ethical”, or “principled” vegetarians to the full status of the veggie style, valuable as that initiative could be. Practicable evolution is more effective than the exercise of dogmatic rituals in a rapidly changing and alert world.

5. Accentuating the Positive…
Which is where we have always been. We believe that a worthwhile and well-informed trend can be sustained. The Grocer’s articles – and the appropriate manufacturers and retailers – underplay the great advances in the dairy-free market, which is doing more for the veggie cause than anything else at the moment. The trade fights shy of the v-words and manifestations of the cruelty-free “milk of human kindness” claims – unfortunately – but the interest of the growers of pulses and cereals are in their commercial way ousting entrenched abuses in the dairy/beef/veal industry. The influence and trend are likely to surpass the dire toll of BSE and its consequences.

In the Grocers’ appraisal soya milks are rated a success in its focus on the Health market – “a lifestyle choice as much as allergy reasons are switching consumers from traditional dairy to soya-based drinks.” It quotes an overall increase in the sales of the soya category, including milk, yogurts and dessert and cream, by 26.5% over the last year, with soya milk, at a 28.9% increase as the best performer. This market exhibits a confidence that bids fair for further advances. A spokesman for So Good comments: “The market now sells more than 1 million packs a week and it is still growing. We estimate that every 1% of dairy consumers that convert to soya would add a further £15 million to UK retailers’ profits annually”. And they would alleviate a lot of abuse to farm animals and the environment. We note the assumption of replacement: dairy-free milks will undoubtedly enrich the diets of people who have excluded animal-derived milks for various compelling reasons, but the significance of replacements extends well beyond the not-so-compelling excuses of lacto-ovos (“I would go vegan, but…”). (For info on being a vegan see VEGA on Ethics, VEGA Going Dairy-Free, Vegan Society, MCL, Vegan Organic Network, Vegan Village, Vegan Store, Vegan Action).

Let us hail a further boost from an authoritative quarter that is at last being recognized as a substantial contribution to a veggie interest that is spreading through the commercial market. We would reproduce our testimony over the last few years but instead cite a version in the Times in a series of articles, one of which is entitled “Healthy eating is the best prevention – The food industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to coronary heart disease”.

Appraising the benefits of exercise and diet, a Times commentator writes: “Food is particularly important: a 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that consuming a ‘dietary portfolio’ of vegetarian foods can lower cholesterol nearly as well as a prescription statin. The diet was rich in soluble fibre from oats, barley, aubergines, and okra. It used soya substitutes instead of meat and milk and included almonds and special cholesterol-lowering margarines containing plant sterols and stanols” (Statins are drugs that Britain’s Dept of Health is recommending for nationwide availability over the counter and on prescription, with strong persuasions for men above a certain age, say, 65).

Other studies, e.g. reported recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, sing the same tune. The portfolio presents recipes, menus, and data that are real veggie (or vegan). So the medical profession is becoming the strongest advocate for animal welfare, human, farmed, and hunted!

6. Vega and New Vegetarianism
We have a portfolio that challenges development and action. Where better, then, with cooks, chefs, and writers lauded for their output in veggie contexts? The responses have seen a dearth of application. What a subject for tasty enterprise in restaurants and for new themed books by cookery-writers! We can only report at the moment, after several years of persuasion, responses of scant interest or even disdain.

So now a Green Plan objective is at least being realized. The Old Lacto-ovo-Vegetarianism gives way at last to the evidence-based and confident New Vegetarianism, which may brook limited commercial usage of discredited words while enjoying the movements of the market and consumer power to attain a dynamism that Old Vegetarianism has failed to generate. There remains a lot to campaign for. Watch this site and read labels!

Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008