Ever wondered which companies are behind the scenes of your favourite vegan products? And does it influence what you purchase? Chances are that unless you’re buying your food directly from a small business, there’s going to be a bit of corporate flavour added.
For some of us that’s no issue–after all, the more plant-based products we see on shelves the better. But for others, knowing that these brands are owned by global corporations that also support meat and dairy agriculture is difficult to palate. Some even choose to boycott those brands entirely.
The ethics do get kinda murky. If our net goal is to encourage more people to make vegan choices, then shouldn’t we support all plant-based products, regardless of who owns them? If not, then how do we determine what a “vegan-approved company” is anyway? Should the founders be vegan? What about their investors? Should the farmers they source their oats from also be vegan, as well as the retailer that stocks their products?
After a quick skim online, I was surprised to see the following companies behind many recognisable supermarket vegan brands.
- Silk and So Delicious owned by dairy giant Danone.
- Field Roast, Chao Cheese and Lightlife, all owned by Maple Leaf Foods (one of Canada’s largest meat manufacturers)
- Daiya owned by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals.
- Earth Balance and Gardein both owned by Conagra
- Sabra, the wildly popular hummus, owned by Pepsico.
- Boca plant-based burgers owned by Kraft.
- Morningstar Farms owned by Kellogg’s.
- Quorn owned by Monde Nissan.
- Sweet Earth owned by Nestlé.
I expect to see many, many more of these brands quietly change hands, as Big Food players move to buy up small plant-based startups. If they don’t, they face an enormous loss of market share as consumers continue to turn towards plant-based alternatives.
That’s not such a bad thing if we want to displace animals from the food supply chain and help smaller companies to reach a wider audience with the support of corporate investment(you can read more about the pros and cons of that here).
What does worry me, however, is that by keeping these major corporations in a position of market power, we’re leaving the future of the food system in their hands. They are hardwired to seek profit and efficiency; cheaper, faster, more scalable ways of doing things. And ultimately that can lead to products that become more generic, more homogenised over time.
Or companies that forget what they originally stood for. That’s how we got here in the first place. I’m not suggesting that we stop buying products manufactured by multinationals. Hey, I might even sell my own company to one in the future. What I am saying is that the food system was broken before, with too much power in the hands of very few. We have an opportunity to rewrite things, right now, by supporting the smaller, local companies driving change.
So buy from them directly, or through independent retailers, and support them on social media. That’s the only way things will change. They might still get acquired by a Big Food company in the end. But at least they’ll have more leverage by that stage to call the shots and be uncompromising in their values.