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Empowering Women in Veganism: Inside the Vegan Women Summit 2024

The Vegan Women Summit 2024 took place at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California, on May 9 and 10, drawing nearly 1,000 attendees from six continents. With over 100 speakers and brands, the summit celebrated the contributions of women in the vegan industry, including the fields of food, fashion, beauty, and sustainability. 

The summit began with a pre-party gala where celebrities such as Moby, Red Foo, Nika King, Sharon Carpenter, and Aubrey K. Miller were in attendance on the red carpet. Founder Jennifer (Jenny) Stojkovic welcomed the over 300 guests to the summit, where guests had the opportunity to sample Climax Foods blue and brie cheeses, along with catering by Ma-Kin Sushi, 2foods USA, and La Crepe Du Jardin.

Vegan Women Summit red carpet
© Vegan Women Summit

Keynote speech by Ethan Brown

Ethan Brown, founder of Beyond Meat, delivered an inspiring keynote speech in conversation with Stojkovic where he shared his personal journey of transitioning to a plant-based diet and creating a successful plant-based meat alternative company. He spoke on the importance of resilience, risk-taking, a “little bit of insanity,” and embracing failure as a pathway to success. This is especially crucial considering the challenges faced by the company as of late.

“We’ve got to stop being purists. We’ve got to support each other”

Reflecting on the political and emotional obstacles faced by the industry, he spoke on the agricultural lobbies in every state, the control they have, and their resistance to change. He noted, “They’re really big, and they’re really powerful. And they control Washington. Right? And so it’s just a lot harder, but there’s also this emotional component, right? You don’t hear people say, my daddy had a landline. I had a landline. You never heard that. Right. But when it comes to [eating plant-based], you do hear it.”

Brown is optimistic about the future of the plant-based meat industry and his predicted shift away from terms like “fake” and “artificial.” He stated, “You won’t hear this alternative meat, this fake meat, even plant-based meat, they will all be meat. Your grandchildren will be eating meat right from plants and not thinking about it.”

ethan brown and jenny stojkovic vegan women summit
© Vegconomist

Brown addressed the challenges of fear-mongering and disinformation, noting the safety and benefits of plant-based ingredients. “There’s nothing in our products that’s going to harm you. There’s nothing. There are 1000s of studies out there saying that processed meat, red meat, all these things are going to really harm if you eat them in large levels.

There’s not a single study out there with any merit that says there’s anything wrong with any of the ingredients we use. Red lentils, brown rice, yellow peas. All of these things right from the earth are being grown by real farmers. We’ve got to stop being purists. We’ve got to support each other.”

Stojkovic and Brown further spoke on the unity and shared goals among vegans and the importance of working together towards a common goal of creating a kinder world, which was a key theme present throughout the day. They urged others to stop the infighting, and the necessity to come together and support each other as an industry if we are to drive long-standing change.

Climax Foods blue cheese VWS
Climax Foods blue cheese © Vegconomist

Guests and brand showcases

Special guest Oliver Zahn, founder of Climax Foods, made headlines with his company’s blue cheese, which recently faced disqualification from the Good Food Awards due to a last-minute technicality.

Notable brands like 2Foods USA, VBites, GoodSAM, and Mooji Meats showcased their innovative products, along with vegan collagen bone broth from Liven Proteins and plant-based steak from Mooji Meats.

Also in attendance were industry up-and-comers like Blue Zones Kitchen, Prophecy Foods, and Never Better Foods, who sampled its plant-based cheese options made from ingredients like pea protein, sunflower protein, chickpea protein, and konjac.

mooji meat steak
Mooji Meats plant-based steak © Vegconomist

Panels and discussions

The summit featured a diverse array of panels and discussions, covering a wide range of topics relevant to the vegan industry:

  • Longevity panel: Esteemed doctors, including Dr. Melissa Sundermann, Dr. Janel Gordon, Dr. Robyn Tiger, and Abigail Coleman, founder of Blue Zones Kitchen, discussed the impact of plant-based diets on longevity and overall health.
  • Plant-based entrepreneurship: Nia Gatica and Jayde Nicole, founders of Sugar Taco, shared insights on building successful businesses in the plant-based sector, discussing the challenges and opportunities they encountered along the way.
  • Rising women in food: Moderated by Terry Stanley of Adweek, this panel featured Fei Luo of Liven Proteins, Delaney Berman of Prophecy Foods, Insa Mohr of Mooji Meat, and Mehek Khera of Niramaya. The discussion centered around entrepreneurship, taking risks, gender dynamics in food tech, and the importance of collaboration and support within the industry.
  • Fungi, plastic-free Fashion, and executive careers: Further panels covered innovative topics such as the use of fungi in sustainable products, the rise of plastic-free fashion, and building meaningful executive careers, focusing on the challenges women face in leadership roles and the need for supportive communities.
  • Heather Terry of GoodSAM: Terry discussed the importance of working holistically with your supply chain, along with transparency in product sourcing. GoodSAM works directly with farmers and invests in them and their businesses, centering around regenerative agriculture with smallholder farmers and indigenous communities. Terry spotlighted the company’s commitment to ethical practices, sustainable agriculture, and fair wages for farmers in order to support business longevity and a secure supply chain. 
Vegan Women Summit
© Vegan Women Summit

The “New Plant-Based Consumer”

Jenny Engel and Heather Golden Ray from Hey, Sunshine Kitchen, Kate Dugan from Beyond Meat, and Ipek Trinkaus from Milkadamia discussed consumer insights and pricing strategies, including the need to prioritize volume and affordability in the current market.

They spoke on the innovation process required for new product launches, with key takeaways being the need for qualitative and quantitative research, internal panels, and taste testing for product validation, as well as the importance of scalability and connecting with purpose, not just profit.

The panel was further asked about their thoughts on consumer acceptance of cultivated meat, with Dugan noting the challenges of positioning. She stated, “I think nailing the positioning of cultivated meat is actually a pretty difficult task. Because I do think you certainly have consumers who feel a little bit conflicted, but they’re not willing to necessarily change their behaviors.  I think there is a category of people that it totally makes sense for. But I think the question is, really, how do you position it, and how do you actually get them to change their behaviors?”

Mr. Charlies vws
© Vegan Women Summit

Plant-based foods, competitions, and book signings

Mr. Charlie’s and Violife provided food throughout the day, with Mr. Charlie’s serving breakfast sandwiches with TiNDLE sausage, and for lunch, it was “Not a Chicken Sandwich” with TiNDLE’s chicken patty, along with salads from Pura Vita LA, Violife queso and chips, and offerings from Beyond Meat. 

In the Top Chef Challenge, Adjoa Courtney (Chef Joya), Ratbek Sadvakassov, and Rebecca Yang competed for the title, using Mellody Farms vegan honey and Impossible meat in their recipes. Chef Joya took home the win with her honey garlic vegan lamb chop served on sweet potato polenta and smoked Swiss chard.

Throughout the day, attendees had the opportunity to meet and get books signed by authors such as Redfoo & Momfoo, Lyana Blount, Remy Park, Lauren Toyota, and Nick Cutsumpas in the Creator Corner.

heather mills vws
© Heather Mills

Recognition and closing awards

The summit concluded with keynote Heather Mills, owner of VBites, speaking on overcoming adversity, the significance of marketing and branding, understanding the global market and anticipating challenges, along with an unwavering commitment to what you do.

She shared, “Make sure the product is absolutely brilliant and don’t compromise on your product because it won’t last. […] You’ve got to plan your business and everything you do like it’s going to be a disaster, but remain hopeful and enjoy every day because you could all be gone tomorrow.”

Mills was also honored as Woman of the Year, recognizing her unwavering commitment to the vegan movement and her impactful leadership. Impossible Foods took home the award for Best Place to Work, and Upside Foods won Innovation of the Year.

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