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Messages From Vegan Business Leaders on World Vegan Day, Part 2

In this second installment, we feature messages from prominent figures in the plant-based space who each have valuable insights to share, featuring vegan cheese legend Miyoko Schinner; bee-free honey pioneer Darko Mandich of Melibio; Canadian Waygu beef leader Blair Bullus of Wamame Foods; and vegan business expert Elysabeth Alfano of VegTech Invest.

We asked: as we approach the end of what has been a turbulent year for many in the business, what is your message for the plant-based industry as we look ahead to 2024?

Miyoko Schinner: “Celebrate compassion”

Yes, it’s been a rough year for the industry of “alt-protein,” but does that necessarily mean it’s been rough for the advancement of veganism? The question we must ask as vegans is actually what is our real goal? Is it the advancement of the industry, or the advancement of veganism?

“We need a new vegconomy, and that may mean a complete overhaul of our approach to date”

Approximately a dozen years into the explosion of vegan CPG, it’s time for the industry to do some deep reflection to reassess where it needs to pivot in order to survive, or even if some trends need to survive at all if the advancement of veganism is the real goal (perhaps it’s not for some or even many).

Miyoko Schinner
©Miyoko’s Creamery

Over the past decade, we’ve drunk the kool-aid of the market as the only way to save the day, and I agree that the splash made by earlycomers such as Beyond Meat did wonders in bringing to the general public the simple awareness of veganism and vegan foods. We don’t live in the same world now as we did more than a decade ago – whether or not a consumer buys vegan chicken nuggets, they at least know of the existence of veganism.

Awareness is the beginning, and hence, the future is still our opportunity. By focusing on truly understanding who our early adopters are and finding the right product-market fit, I still believe there’s a bright future ahead for transforming consumers into vegans, although not necessarily the way we’re doing it now. We need a new vegconomy, and that may mean a complete overhaul of our approach to date.

So on World Vegan Day, I celebrate the future of the expansion of a compassionate world, and hope that deep self-reflection by industry leaders and activists will help lead that transformation.

Darko Mandich, Melibio: “Optimism and unity”

As we celebrate World Vegan Day and reflect on this challenging year, unity and innovation have been pivotal in driving the plant-based industry forward. As CEO of MeliBio, I see this moment as a crucial juncture for our sector. The turbulence of recent times underscores the need for collaboration and a shared commitment to crafting sustainable alternatives.

Darko Mandich
Darko Mandich © MeliBio

Looking to 2024, my message is one of optimism and unity. Let’s continue to foster open communication, leveraging our collective strengths to drive innovation and market growth. Crucially, the plant-based industry must prioritize taste and quality to win over consumers, emphasizing the importance of delivering plant-based foods that rival their conventional counterparts. By doing so, we not only bolster our businesses but also champion a sustainable future for our planet and generations to come.

Blair Bullus, Wamame Foods: “Collaboration”

On this World Vegan Day, we as an industry should celebrate our collective achievements in animal-free foods. Never has there ever been a better time to eat cruelty-free and sustainably. From the world’s best restaurant Eleven Madison Park’s 100% plant-based menu to vegan options across nearly all quick service restaurants the global perception of vegan options has shifted towards acceptance and is continuing to mature.

Never have low-emission protein options been more needed. Governments globally are recognizing that without a shift within dietary norms we will not meet our GHG and global temperature targets. Action on this subject is beginning to be taken seriously, national food policies from major countries including China, Germany, South Korea and many others are prioritizing plant-forward action plans that include incentives for producers, retailers and food service operators.

© Wamame Foods

Additionally, we as producers are in a far better place collectively than just a year or two ago and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and know-how to develop products that put flavour and nutrition at the forefront of the next generation of vegan options. We must continue to invest with a laser-like focus, on solution-based innovative products and remove the “me too” mentality of the category.

In the opinion of Wamame Foods, collaboration will be at the heart of this forthcoming year for vegan brands and is the core of what we are focusing on. Collaborations between academia, farmers, governments, and within the food manufacturing industry will begin to foster a new chapter in sustainable vegan food combining resources, intellectual property and consumer insights to develop truly groundbreaking products.

At Wamame our outlook for 2024 and beyond has not diminished even as the sector has weathered a turbulent 2023.

Elysabeth Alfano, VegTech: “Messaging”

I see major inroads happening in the supply chain with novel ingredients and more manufacturing coming on-line.  At VegTech™ Invest, we believe this is where the critical growth will be. On the Plantbased Business Hour, I have been talking about the growth of food service for over a year and I think this will only continue as institutions look to take down their carbon footprint by starting first with the lowest hanging fruit: switching their cafeterias to be the majority plant-based without having a big CapEx spend.  And, of course, mushrooms and fermentation are only beginning to have their big moment.

Image courtesy Elysabeth Alfano

That said, there are weaknesses in the industry.  An unfortunate amount of infighting or hierarchy keeps our tiny industry from working together which is a shame given the limited resources that we have. Further, we need to focus outside of the bubble and talk to key leaders in other sectors to help them understand the critical nature of sustainable food systems transformation away from animals. It is why I focus my energy on Wall Street with VegTech™ Invest.

“…get the message to the masses who still don’t know there is a problem”

We all need to be at Climate Week, sustainable investment conferences, and non-food pitch slams, as examples, to get the message to the masses who still don’t even know that there is a problem with how we produce protein today. And we need to do that fast. Lastly, press releases with big headlines are fun, but more than the headlines, founders need to focus on the work and making those investment dollars stretch. It would behoove them to get back to being scrappy to ride out what could continue to be a turbulent year in 2024.

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