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The changing face of vegan snacks

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(Photo: Flickr user jennconspiracy)

Two years ago, a UK-based group launched Veganuary, a global effort to get people to try going vegan for the month of January. The effort, launched for ethical, health and environmental reasons, comes as most consumers are making more meals out of snacks, and whether it’s for a  month or forever, those going plant-based have more snack options than ever before.

The federal government’s release of new dietary guidelines earlier this month sparked renewed debate about whether the recommendations go far enough to encourage healthy eating, and it’s  likely to continue into the foreseeable future, but nobody’s arguing against the recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Whether people are looking to follow those recommendations with healthy plant-based snacks or seeking sugary sweets and salty treats that eschew animal products, there’s something for everyone. Plant-based snacks range from traditional snack foods including Oreos, Skittles, potato chips and pretzels that just happen to be made without animal products, to  a growing group of packaged foods created especially for vegans and marketed using the “V” word.

“Since starting Emmy’s in 2009 we’ve seen so many plant-based food companies pop up. Both independents and companies or product lines started by big food companies,” said Samantha Abrams, co-owner of Emmy’s Organics.

Emmy’s makes snacks and cereals that are organic and gluten-free as well as vegan, all key qualities as consumers continue to show more of an interest about where their food comes from and what goes into it, she said.

“I think shoppers are more inclined to look at ingredient lists and ask questions because they care and they have also been taught that there are products out there that can be misleading,” she said. “We have a lot of strictly vegan customers but we also have a lot of strictly gluten-free or dairy-free customers as well. I do think that the vegan aspect is very important though.”

The number of snacks that are now marketed as vegan has grown so much that startups like Vegan Cuts can fill monthly snack boxes for subscribers, who pay $19.95 a month for boxes of seven to 10 full- and sample-size snacks, all of them vegan and most gluten-free.

Vegan snack offerings include plenty of cookies, chips and candies that healthy eaters may want to consume sparingly, but there are also plenty of options with short lists of whole-food ingredients including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

“I think that a healthy vegan snack can also be indulgent and that’s a lot of what we are creating here at Emmy’s. A healthy vegan snack, though, should be made with clean ingredients that you can read and understand. It should make you feel good and not make you crash an hour after eating it,” Abrams said.

As vegan snacks have started to become more mainstream, they’re also becoming less of a niche item that only plant-based eaters seek out, and food companies that were once reluctant to use the word “vegan” for fear of turning off consumers are now starting to see it as a selling point.

“I think that the stereotype of “all vegan food tastes bad” is slowly going away. At least in the areas of the country where there are more vegans and vegan products, because it’s still not common everywhere,” Abrams said. “In those areas, I think plenty of omnivores are willing and excited to try new vegan products or restaurants. I do think that we still have some work to do in those other parts of the country where clean eating is not as understood. We have come a very long way though.”


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