We already knew that vegans are incredible athletes, poets, musicians, and actors, but did you know that vegans have enviable business savvy? In the past few years, some of the most adept leaders in the plant-based community have introduced a slew of new products — and their efforts have garnered interest from some of the most influential people in the modern world. Why are these companies gaining such a foothold, and what does this new generation of brands mean for consumers, both vegan and omnivorous?
You’ve no doubt heard of this dynamite company, responsible for incredible products like Just Mayo and Eat the Dough (coming soon!). Headed by the inimitable Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek promises to make the egg industry–notorious for its egregious treatment of chickens–obsolete. To develop what they claim is an identical egg alternative, biochemists studied the molecular properties of 1,500 types of plants to identify a species that would best replicate the characteristics of eggs in different applications like mayonnaise and scrambled eggs. This San Francisco-based company has been supported by the likes of Bill Gates, Al Gore, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, and invested by Asia’s richest businessman, Li Ka-Shing. Unlike other plant-based companies, which seek to reach a niche market of vegans and health-conscious consumers, Hampton Creek is looking beyond one population and hoping to become a new standard, replacing the need or desire to use chicken’s eggs in conventional products. In doing so, Hampton Creek bills itself as a “San Francisco technology start-up” rather than a food company, and focuses on the environmental, economic, and health benefits of egg alternatives–sidestepping the animal welfare aspect. In fact, brand facebook page has pictures of turkey sandwiches along with those of eggless cookie dough. The products are definitely vegan, but the company as a whole doesn’t necessarily market itself as such.
Among the seemingly countless meat analogues on the market today, Beyond Meat is turning heads and becoming the new standard for cruelty-free meat. Just read the company’s mission statement:
We believe there is a better way to feed the planet. Our mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare. At Beyond Meat, we want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious meal at a time.
Delicious indeed. CEO and Founder Ethan Brown has taken the scientific makeup of meat–amino acids, fats, trace carbohydrates and minerals, and water–to construct an eerily similar replica of real meat, even its characteristic chew, resistance, and variation. Currently, vegans can purchase their Grilled, Southwest, and Lightly Seasoned variations of chicken strips, in addition to the new Feisty and Beefy Crumbles in your grocery store’s freezer section.
Cheese lovers, rejoice! If you’re a fan of the smelly, pungent stuff, it’s likely you’ve been disappointed by vegan cheese thus far. Sure, Daiya and Follow Your Heart can satisfy a certain craving, but fancy cheese they are not. Enter Kite Hill: this company uses the same techniques used in dairy cheese making to create a 100% vegan product. This involves a timely process of pasteurization, inoculation, and coagulation–all necessary to replicate the unique flavors and textures that define traditional non-vegan cheese. Like Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat, Kite Hill appears to aim at a larger demographic–and their mission doesn’t include any advocacy for animals or the environment, only the goal of creating the best artisanal non-dairy cheese. But unlike the other two companies, Kite Hill emphasizes its artisanal, old-world process, rather than new, high tech development. Accordingly, Kite Hill is sold exclusively at Whole Foods markets throughout the U.S., but you won’t find it among the other vegan cheeses; this artisanal brand stands proudly in the same section as the dairy cheese. Though it is fairly pricey, a wine and cheese night is the perfect occasion to try this new brand.
As veganism becomes more normalized in our culture, companies are recognizing the universal appeal of plant-based fare. These companies stress environmental, economic, and health benefits over animal rights; they also focus on each vegan product, as opposed to marketing a completely vegan lifestyle. And each claims to be an identical replacement to the non-vegan counterpart, whether that results from high-tech or artisanal processes. With this new approach, they have earned financial investment and public endorsement from some of the world’s most respected leaders. No longer are vegan products displayed as questionable and hippie delights; these and other companies are bringing plant-based foods to the mainstream by making the lifestyle seamlessly practical, delectable, and a touch cool.
Have you tried any of these new brands? What do you think differentiates new vegan companies from their older counterparts?
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Photo: Just Mayo