We talk to the new wave of vegan entrepreneurs that are working towards bringing awareness and ‘giving back’ to society
Remember the old Wall Street mantra of the 80s? It decreed that ‘greed is good’. While that mind-set may still be evident in large sectors of the business community, a growing number of entrepreneurs are looking at more than just the bottom line when it comes to their businesses – they are looking at how to benefit the wider community by creating ‘conscious brands’.
But what does this mean?
“Being conscious is having total awareness of everything you experience, impact and do. We’ve both built conscious businesses before, but it’s not enough. We try to take it one step further by being ‘actively conscious’,” explains Alex Petrides, one of the founders (along with brother JP) of allplants, a business which delivers prepared plant-based meals nationwide.
He adds: “Launching an actively conscious start-up is difficult but we’re prepared. It means our costs are higher than others, for example when trying to insulate our boxes, rather than opting for polystyrene cool boxes or woolcool, we collaborated with a US-based company and insulate our boxes with an upcycled raw denim liner.”
Another element is the idea of ‘giving back’ or raising funds for social enterprises. Damien Clarkson and Judy Nadel are the founders of Vevolution – an organisation that holds regular education-focused events showcasing vegan thought leaders, with the aim of being a culture shaping physical and online platform for people with ideas to create a better world.
According to the pair: “Prior to starting Vevolution both of us spent a lot of our careers working on environmental and social issues. Starting a conscious company that gave back to the community we serve felt like the only way for us to go. Veganism is about creating a better world for non-human and human animals, the people leading the way now need to lead the way and show how we can create a better future through business that treats the world kindly.”
They undertake a range of activities in order to support wider causes, and have made a commitment to create free educational resources, saying: “We are on a mission to create the vegan TED talks. You can already find 20 free talks to access on our YouTube from some of the UK’s leading vegan thinkers. We also fundraise for charities at our events. So far this year we have supported plant-based community kitchen Made In Hackney and Sheffield based activism hub HeartCure. In total we have raised over £700 for these charities so far in 2017.”
So how do you balance running a business which has to be profitable, with ‘giving back’ to society?
“It’s tricky,” says Vevolution’s Damien and Judy, “but we felt it was the only way to go. We believe if you create something with love and passion and all your skill eventually the financial rewards will follow. Like all startups we make a lot of sacrifices to run Vevolution we are lucky to have a loyal group of fans and some fantastic sponsors.
Ayub Maksudov is the founder of Organax, a superfood powder range which is Soil Association certified organic, vegan, 100 per cent raw, gluten free and fair trade. He says: “It is a difficult balance. The idea of launching the brand wasn’t ever about making a huge business. Since we are the manufacturers of our products and grow 40 per cent of our ingredients ourselves, we have good margins, which provide the possibility for us to do this. I want to enjoy giving back as well as see my business grow. By making quantities, we can be profitable. We know it will take two-three years of us investing and we therefore expect certain losses. But we enjoy what we give back rather than what we make.
“The whole idea behind Organax was to create a company that supported people In terms of their health and also their lives. We were also very clear from the outset that we wanted to give a part of our profit to charitable causes. It means a lot to me personally and is a driving ethos behind everything we do.”
He sees providing free information as a valuable service, saying: “We are passionate about enabling people to be as healthy as possible in an accessible and affordable way. With today’s environmental pollution and depleted soils, even a ‘healthy’ diet might not provide all of the essential vitamins and minerals we need. Therefore, we wanted to provide a high-grade, certified organic superfood blend that combines a comprehensive mix of vital nutrients.
“We also wanted to share our knowledge of nutrition, health and wellness for free. This is a major focus for us as a brand, to provide expert information to everybody, from families to fitness people and yogis to business execs. We want to support them. We are very active online through our social media channels so we can continue to provide information to anyone who needs it. We work with some amazing industry experts including nutritionists and wellness experts and we will continue to build on this. Our products also support the wider community in that they provide much needed nutrients to those who may not be so conscious of what their diet is made up of and therefore may be in need of a way to supplement this.”
The methods laid down by the brands should yield big results future. Vevolution’s Damien and Judy say: “By the end of 2017 we will have over 50 high quality talks recorded and available online for free. We will continue to fundraise at our events and hope to raise in excess of £2000 for charities by the end of 2017.”
According to Alex and JP of allplants: “We look at the long-term goals rather than short term wins, promoting plant-based eating, running a zero-waste service – from our carbon neutral deliveries to our box returns and reuse movement – while registering as a b-corp. That means we actively consider people, planet and profit for every decision we make. We plan to keep growing our menu online, delivering to 1000s of doorsteps nationwide this year. With the latest YouGov poll announcing that 56% of the UK don’t feel that a good meal needs meat, there is demand for plant-powered food and we want to show how delicious veganism can be. Beyond that, next year will see our venture into big retail supermarkets… and maybe a cheeky restaurant. On the philanthropy-side, next year we plan to set up allplants foundation, which will support projects focussed on collaborative, sustainable living. “
Organax’s Ayub Maksudov adds: “It is important for our farmers to know it is guaranteed business. That means there is zero risk, worry, marketing and extra hassle for them. They can focus 100 per cent on what they are good at, which is producing the highest quality crops. Subsequently our farmers are always supportive to us in return. We also give back to our farmers. We have a contractual agreement with them that when they produce certain ingredients for us, we guarantee before they plant that they only supply us and we only buy from them, no matter what the cost is In the market.
“Our vision is to build an orphanage in the local area close to the farm with a part of our profits. We are at the beginning stages, where we are actively looking for land to be able to build. The success of our brand will support this vision.”