Note: All the market research articles are published in the category “What Vegans Want.”
In this article of my series on vegetarian and vegan market research I want to take you back to the year 1994. This was the year when I became aware that gelatine is an animal by-product. It is derived from collagen, a protein of various connective tissues in animals. It was also the year when I started to read labels and when I extended my boycott to processed foods.
From mid-1992 to mid-1993, I lived for a year as an Au Pair in Connecticut, where I spent all my free time at the movies. I remember buying massive amounts of Gummy Bears and other kinds of candy at the theater’s concession stand, many of which contained gelatine. I was blithely unaware of gelatine’s origins back then. More importantly, I had not yet begun to read labels.
All this changed when I moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 1994, where I’d enrolled in an MBA-programme at Woodbury University in Burbank, CA. The following year, I started an Internship at NBC Entertainment Press & Publicity in Burbank, CA, where I continued to work until my graduation in June 1996 and all through early 1997, when I decided to return to Austria.
At that point in my life I’d already progressed as a consumer: I bought organic dairy, eggs, yoghurt, and cheese – but not exclusively so. All that changed when I moved to California. I was unfamiliar with the food items at the supermarket, and therefore started to read labels straight away. I remember my shock when I read the ingredients list on a tub of yoghurt: it contained gelatine (and many more ingredients). Sometime before the fall of 1994 – when I started food shopping in Los Angeles – I had learned where gelatine came from and stopped buying it.
I read labels religiously during my time in California and stopped buying non-organic dairy, eggs, and cheese, and processed items that contained non-organic animal-derived ingredients. I was appalled and outright disgusted by what I read on many of the labels. Many of the ingredients on those labels where unrecognizable – and outright unpronounceable – to me. They did not exist in nature. I did not want to eat that kind of crap – which I simply didn’t consider “food.”
To this day, I read the labels of all new food items I buy, and occasionally re-read labels of items I have been buying for years. One never knows – the ingredients list might change. This is very time-consuming. As a result, I now buy very few processed foods, and cook most of my lunches & dinners from scratch. I only buy processed food items, if I recognize the ingredients and know where they come from.
My time in California marked another step in my evolution as a consumer. I made a decision to only buy organic dairy, eggs, and cheese (and not to buy gelatine) – and that decision now included processed foods. I started to “make do without.”
I also bought more and more food at organic supermarkets, like Whole Foods, which in the mid-1990s already owned & operated several branches in the Los Angeles area. I had shopped at organic grocery stores in Vienna before I moved to Los Angeles, but the stores where all tiny compared to the Whole Foods markets, which were proper supermarkets. I could buy everything I needed there in organic quality, and I did: I now bought more and more organic fruits and vegetables, which had nothing to do with animal welfare reasons (my primary motivator for all shopping decisions). But I’d become aware of the issue of pesticides, and wanted to avoid them. In addition to animal welfare reasons, I now also cared about health issues. I rapidly evolved as a consumer.
What do my decisions at that time mean for vegetarian and vegan market researchers? When I started reading labels, all of a sudden literally thousands of food items ended up on my “boycott” list.
Also, when I started to shop more and more at organic supermarkets, and considerably less at the large well-known supermarket chains, many products stopped existing in my mind, as they were not available at Whole Foods supermarkets. I developed “tunnel vision,” only mentally registering those kinds of products that I would consider buying and which were available at organic supermarkets, and blocked out advertisement for products which didn’t meet my standards or which I didn’t see on the shelves at the supermarkets of my choice. I became immune to many food products which are advertised on television, in newspapers, and in magazines. I was well on my way of becoming a very selective consumer.