Note: All the market research articles are published in the category “What Vegans Want.”
I guess it’s clear to everyone by now that I didn’t manage to stick to my weekly Monday publishing schedule for the “market research: what vegetarians and vegans want”-series. What can I say? Life and (paying) work got in the way.
However, the prolonged break has helped me to restructure this series of articles. My original plan was to write about my evolution as a vegan consumer in a chronological manner. I now think it’s better to chronicle first my evolution as a consumer in regard to food shopping and restaurants, and then to describe other consumer decisions, for example in regard to clothes, cosmetics, shoes, etc. Needless to say, my evolution as a shopper wasn’t neat and orderly. Wearing fur was never an option; I was strictly opposed to animal research for cosmetics from a young age onwards, and joined the boycott against imported products from South Africa as a student in the late-1980s to fight apartheid. (No bananas for a year!). I was passionate about many causes, but I think I need a more structured approach to telling my evolution as a consumer, if I want market researchers to benefit from my experiences.
So today I’ll continue to describe my evolution from an ovo-lacto non-organic vegetarian to an organic vegan in terms of food.
In my last article I described the beginnings: shopping for organic eggs and milk at the supermarket and at health-food stores, but still buying non-organic eggs and milk, if the other kind wasn’t available. I also didn’t care, if processed foods contained non-organic milk and eggs, and if restaurants used non-organic milk and eggs when preparing my food.
What followed next? The opening of a small organic grocery store in 1986 by Josefine and Stefan Maran, two pioneers of the organic movement in Austria. Their store was just minutes away from where we lived in Vienna at the time, and my mother was one of their first customers. Organic food products became a household staple in our home. Organic brown rice, anyone? It took a while to figure out how to cook organic whole grains (no salt!).
In the summer of 1986, when I was 19 years old, I moved into my own apartment. For the first time in my life, I had to shop and cook my own food on a daily basis. I primarily cared about animal-derived products like milk, eggs, yoghurt, and cheese. Animal welfare issues were and still are my first concern. But I soon started to buy more and more other organic products as well: fruits and vegetables, grains and bread. Whenever more organic products became available, I bought them (mostly at small health-food stores). This evolution happened over the course of several years. There simply weren’t that many products on the market back then, and the organic movement was just getting started. In Austria, the introduction of the “Ja! Natürlich” brand in 1994 by the supermarket chain “Billa” gave the organic movement a huge boost.
The “Ja! Natürlich”-brand is a store-owned brand, and “Billa” is a supermarket chain, which has a huge market share in Austria. All of a sudden, consumers were able to shop for organic products at the supermarket, and didn’t have to search for them at small health food stores and farmers’ markets. It’s all about supply and demand really, and all of a sudden, organic products became widely available all over Austria. “Billa” continued to introduce more and more organic products, and today some 7.000 farmers supply products and ingredients for the “Ja! natürlich” brand, many of which are Austrian farmers. Today, some 20 % of all agricultural farmland in Austria is organically farmed – and “Billa’s” initiative has played a big part in this evolution. Most other supermarkets have since successfully introduced their own brands of organic food.
You’ll notice that this article (and the one before) concentrates on organic products, and not on vegan foods. I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian at age 15, and didn’t stop eating eggs until I was in my thirties. I drank milk until I became a vegan some three years ago.
For many years, my evolution as a vegetarian consisted of buying more and more organic products. I didn’t eat meat or fish, but wasn’t fully aware yet about factory farming issues. I knew little about the dismal conditions in which farm animals were kept. I didn’t know that male chickens were gassed or hacked to death (fully conscious) right after birth. Pre-Internet, information was hard to come by, so my evolution was gradual. However, I slowly became aware of a number of animal welfare issues related to farm animals and eventually reached a point where buying non-organic dairy, eggs, and cheese simply wasn’t an option anymore.
Here’s how I evolved as a food shopper:
First, I stopped buying non-organic milk and eggs at the supermarket. When the organic kind wasn’t available, I eventually made do without. As I absolutely need (need!) milk for my coffee, I made sure never (!) to run out of milk. I didn’t just put milk in the refrigerator, I kept some milk in the freezer as well.
As more organic food items became available (yoghurt, cheese), I bought those as well and made do without, if organic yoghurts and cheese were not available at the market.
“Making do without” organic dairy, eggs and cheese instead of buying substitute products was a huge step in my development as a vegan consumer. I eventually stopped buying non-organic dairy, eggs, and cheese. “Making do without” is a concept that market researchers and companies fear, because it means that one isn’t willing to sample new products anymore, if the preferred products aren’t available. Companies spend millions of dollars on advertising, trying to convince consumers to try out their products (old and new). But once a consumer makes a conscious decision about which kinds of products he is willing (or not willing) to buy, this consumer becomes immune to all advertising. The decision to “make do without” is one of the most powerful decision a consumer can make – and it usually involves the decision to not buy a certain product.
Furthermore, once a consumer makes this decision about one product, chances are, he will make more “making do without” decision about other products soon afterwards. Once a consumer reaches this point where he makes conscious decisions about which kinds of products he is willing (or not willing) to buy, it becomes an automatic process. More and more products will eventually end up on the “not buying” and “making do without” lists.
Amazingly, my decision to only buy organic dairy, eggs, and cheese wasn’t solely due to animal welfare reasons, as I’ll describe in my next post. It happened in 1994 and coincided with an exciting time in my life: I moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in an MBA-programme at Woodbury University in Burbank, CA.