Support your local vegan baker: How the rise of veganism could hurt vegan businesses (and what to do about it)

If you're a London or UK vegan, you might have heard the sad news about the closure of Ms Cupcake.

Ms Cupcake opened the UK's first vegan bakery back in 2011, selling indulgent vegan treats and plant-based essentials from a cheerful Brixton storefront. When it opened, a few years after I'd gone fron veggie to vegan,  it was still pretty rare to find all-vegan shop. It was the sort of place that you could take your non vegan friends to prove that being vegan didn't mean missing out.

Whenever we went out in Brixton, I'd pick up a cupcake for later. If I went to visit my family on the other side of the country, they wouldn't let me in if I hadn't brought them a box of cupcakes to share. A non-vegan friend would always ask me to bring down an Ambassador or two, the Ferrero Rocher-style cupcake that Ms Cupcake created and everyone else ripped off.

And now, after all those years knocking out cupcakes, brownies, and my first eve taste of a nanaimo bar, it's shutting up shop.

It's not just Ms Cupcake that found itself struggling either - it turns out there are other vegan businesses going to the wall for the same reasons. In Devon, four vegan businesses closed in one week.

What's behind all these closures? The number of vegans and non-vegans choosing plant-based options has mushroomed. Does that mean there's still not enough demand even so? It turns out that the vegan boom might actually be hurting vegan businesses.

"Now you can find vegan cake on pretty much every high street and supermarket across London. This is a good thing! However, with our continued rent raises, soaring expenses and the fact that mainstream retailers are able to mass produce vegan products at a lower cost - we have decided it is now time to close our doors," Ms Cupcake said in a post on Twitter.

Turns out it wasn't a lack of vegan or vegan-curious that caused the demise of Ms Cupcake -- it was just that because there are now so many other vegan options easily available, we're just getting our vegan treats in other places. We don't have to make the effort to track down vegan food in all-vegan shops, because we can just pick it up in the supermarkets. And sadly, that means that those all-vegan places are having to shut up shop.

Vegan cakes are now even cropping up in your local supermarket - here's one I found in Morrison's
We're all poorer for having lost those herbivourous retailers. We can't avoid spending money at places that sell non-vegan goods alongside vegan ones, much as we might want to, but we should definitely try and choose to support all-vegan options where they exist. If there's a choice between buying something from a vegan company or a non-vegan company, I'm going to make sure I'm choosing the vegan version. I used to buy Plamil's garlic mayo as my mayonnaise of choice; when my local Sainsbury's started stocking a Leon version, I bought that instead, as it didn't mean taking a whole extra journey to the health food shop in the next neighbourhood.

Then I started thinking about this very pertinent Twitter thread (I've condensed it a little, you can find the whole thing here)

Not everyone has a choice about where they eat, and how. But I'm lucky, I live in London, there are vegan options everywhere, and lots of vegan companies to support. So, from now on, I've decided to support all vegan businesses whenever I can -- because if I don't, they may not be around in the future.

Sadly, I don't live near Ms Cupcake any more, but my commute home can take me close to another all-vegan baker, Cake Cult. Yesterday, I picked up a brownie and a Viennese whirl, and put a little bit of cash in the pockets of a small vegan business. I guess it shows supporting vegan companies really is no sacrifice at all.

A chocolate orange vegan brownie from Cake Cult

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  1. Hear, hear! One of my friends has been predicting the demise of vegan businesses for the last few years -- she has been vegan a long time and remembers when vegetarianism first began to pick up steam and mainstream restaurants added veggie options, causing vegetarian restaurants to close. I hope it won't continue to be a trend, and we can support vegan businesses!

    As a general rule (and of course it's not possible depending where you are and what kind of budget you have at the time) I try to support vegan businesses first, and if there isn't an all vegan option option, then a local, independent/family run business with vegan options, before opting for a chain or multinational with vegan options. I think it's important to keep local businesses alive on the high street!

  2. I remember the excitement of a vegan cafe opening but don't really see that sort of buzz any more. But the mainstreaming is amazing - today I heard that they now do vegan meat pies at the footy! That's as mainstream as they come! It is sad to see small businesses struggle against the might of the MCNs. Ironically as we think our choices expand we find that they actually get smaller - and we are living at the whim of the MCNs.

  3. Great post Joey. We just lost our vegan and gf pie shop in my little town. We still have a completely vegan wholefoods shop and a cafe/deli and pub. It's really important to keep supporting these businesses where we can.


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