Vegan food manufacturers in the UK are calling for a united front to take on the powerful meat and dairy lobbies.
In a panel discussion at the Meat Free Strategies 2023 conference in London yesterday (13 September), it was suggested existing associations have not been effective enough and vegan businesses need to make more noise.
Heather Mills, vegan advocate and owner of VBites, said: “What needs to happen is we need to set up some form of alliance. The meat and dairy industries have a community.
“The whole point of an alliance is we want the likes of Nestlé and Cargill [involved]. They are the ones who have the power [in regards to] lobbying the government. That’s when it will get resolved. We don’t have the funds but they do.”
Mills suggested there is an uneven playing field in that the dairy and meat industries are subsidised.
“We need subsidies for farmers to grow grain as well as graze cows,” she said.
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Christopher Kong, co-founder and CEO of Better Nature Tempeh, agreed: “Policy is a really big deal. The amount of subsidy the UK puts behind meat and dairy is incredible,” he said. “If we could get a slice of that we would be in a really good place.”
The UK plant-based industry has seen a number of failures recently – including The Meatless Farm, Plant & Bean and LoveSeitan – and the panellists said such an alliance could also promote best industry practice to stop manufacturers from making mistakes.
Mills said: “The dairy-free sector is pretty safe because the big companies are making a lot of money off the back of it but other companies have badly mismanaged the money that has come in from private-equity.
“We need to get them to take a long-term view of it.”
Tom Bursnall, director of another UK-based meat-free supplier, Miami Foods, said: “The sector has been a victim of its own success. Buyers want something new and NPD people have got too excited. This has led to shelves being too big and rates of sale not being sustained.”
He added: “There are too many players in the market and some will wither away.”
Mills added: “So many companies go under because they aren’t really scientists or chefs and don’t know how to make products.”
On a positive note, Callum Braddock, UK business development director at Singapore-based Tindle, said: “We are still in the embryonic cycle of what we are doing. This category is here to stay and will keep growing.”