On 16 February Greggs reported a 10 per cent overall rise in sales, which was mostly due to the popularity of the vegan sausage roll. The quorn-based pastry was an instant hit; hundreds of thousands were sold in the first week. Then again, it is hardly surprising considering the vegan sausage roll was the direct result of an online petition, with over 20,000 people demanding more inclusivity in Greggs’ products.
Does this mean that other companies will follow suit and start ranges of successful and tasty vegan products? Probably not. We are already in the middle of the dawning of vegan culture, it is a ball already rolling with considerable velocity. With the current population of people with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle estimated at 1 in 8, any food-based franchise with a pinch of savviness should already be in the kitchen, cooking up a delicious new vegan treats. Marks and Spencer’s has Plant Kitchen, Tesco’s has Wicked Kitchen, and Sainsbury’s was named ‘best supermarket for vegans’ with their ‘Love Your Veg!’ range. Even McDonald’s released vegan happy meal and wrap varieties in January.
In some ways, this is extremely positive. No longer do vegans have to suffer with awkward, badly made tofu and quinoa products. The machines of mass food production are finally able to deliver accessible products that break down the barrier between vegans and omnivores. From a social perspective, this is undeniably progressive. However, delving into the ethics produces some disturbing conclusions.
Greggs is a controversial company. This is especially the case regarding its treatment of its employees and its advertising (note the ensuing social media nightmare after Greggs’ ‘sausage roll Jesus’ in 2017). It is not goodwill which motivated them to open their arms to vegans, it is, as it were, the promise of more dough. The petition signaled a wide potential demographic, and Greggs accommodated this. No longer does veganism need to be healthy or expensive, and Greggs’ £1 vegan sausage roll plugs this market perfectly.
This indicates a significant conundrum which must be taken into consideration: are people vegan because companies mass-release vegan products? Or do companies mass-release vegan products because people are vegan? And does that render ethical capitalism an oxymoron? On the one hand, it is worthwhile to point out that many food manufacturing companies are still arguably neglecting ethical principles while producing vegan products; they still pump out emissions, drain resources and mistreat employees. But we must choose our battles carefully, and commend any sort of progress towards inclusivity, however dubious.
Image: Paul Robertson via Flickr