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Shopping with a Conscience
As a vegan, I try to make deliberate and informed choices. To that end, I have recently come across information that has left me a bit perplexed. It seems that quite a few “natural foods” brands are being bought out by large corporations, some of which are involved in producing, processing, and supplying animal products--the very products that we, as vegans, try not to support.
Should we continue to purchase these products with the hope that we will eventually make a difference in what these corporations manufacture and invest in, or should we boycott them and support instead the smaller businesses that are trying to maintain their integrity and not sell out? Do we buy Boca Burgers and in turn support Kraft/Phillip Morris? Do we buy Silk soymilk and other White Wave products and in turn support Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the United States? Do we buy Lightlife products and in turn support ConAgra, one of the largest beef producers in the United States? Or should we buy these alternative products to support the one ethical component of these corporations, with the goal of helping them acknowledge new buying trends and change their focus, thus contributing to less animal suffering and environmental devastation?
Finally, the question of product integrity comes into play. Will the “natural” products be altered once a big corporation buys out a smaller “natural foods” brand? Will they begin to substitute less than acceptable ingredients, such as nonorganic or genetically modified ingredients? What’s a conscientious vegan to do?
At a time when huge corporations are scooping up small manufacturers, it’s hard to decide the best place to put our dollars. Often small companies sell their businesses to large manufacturers because these behemoths have the resources and connections to buy costly shelf space in natural food chain stores and can aggressively promote products, two things that most small producers cannot afford to do. This allows those items with a relatively limited consumer market to not only survive but flourish. It’s not always an issue of small businesses “selling out.” Instead, it’s quite often a matter of survival that ultimately becomes a win-win method to keep their products alive.
When we purchase vegan products from companies that manufacturer items we would rather not support, we are using our dollars to vote for the vegan products. Manufacturers track consumer purchases, and if the items we use are getting lots of votes, companies will not only continue to produce them but will expand these lines. If we do not purchase them, companies will believe there is no market for them, and they will be dropped.
Another benefit to small business buyouts is that the large manufacturers have access to numerous mainstream buying channels. Therefore the products we appreciate and value may be put on the shelves of major grocery stores where they will be accessible not only to us but to the average consumer and could possibly have a broad influence on the public’s buying habits and tastes.
Large corporations know the advantages of having a natural products line. It would not be in their best interest to alter the products and damage the trust that consumers already have placed in them. Sometimes these large manufacturers continue to let the original company with the same management team produce the products, and there is no noticeable change to consumers except greater product accessibility and visibility.
Certainly small companies deserve our loyal support as well. Natural foods entrepreneurs often are product innovators and are frequently motivated to start a company that is fair to workers; produces healthful, animal-free products; and employs environmentally sound production methods. Startup companies usually are struggling to stay afloat, so when we purchase their products we help to sustain them.
Fortunately, we don’t have to choose one manufacturer or retail outlet over another. We can buy products from a variety of companies and stores large and small and make our voices heard across the board. By choosing wisely, consciously, and carefully, we can vote with our dollars every time we go shopping.
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