FFA2019 post-event blog 4:

New opportunities through plant-based foods

Saturday, Apr 27, 2019

During her afternoon keynote address, Heather Mills, the founder of VBites, described her personal journey towards veganism and explained how eating plant-based foods could offer new opportunities for farmers, help the environment and tackle climate change. She appealed both to the animal farming community and the public, urging the former to change its traditional practices and the latter to move away from consuming meat and dairy products.

Describing herself as an idealist 25 years ago, but now a realist, she believes there is growing momentum behind the vegan movement. This is being driven not just by consumer demand, but also by large food manufacturers which are increasingly identifying commercial opportunities in the new plant-based products.

The entrepreneur explained that she is working closely with the meat and dairy industry by showing farmers how to profitably use their land to grow crops, such as oats, for vegan products. This will require training and subsidies to give farmers a sufficient breathing space before they earn returns on their investment. “That is what is going to tackle climate change and global warming,” she said.
She stressed that vegan food must offer choice and quality. “Unless the consumer has a choice of great products, things are never going to change,” Ms Mills warned, explaining she herself had become involved in manufacturing “because I knew I had to control the sustainability and traceability of the products”.

The company now has 130 products made from a wide variety of herbs and plants. It avoids damaging the marine ecosystem, for instance, by extracting Omega-3 oils directly from algae and not from the traditional manufacturing source of fish.

As the vegan sector expands, Ms Mills warned of the need to prevent supermarkets squeezing profit margins for manufacturers developing the products and farmers providing the inputs. Combined pressure on wealthy corporates from farmers and the public could help, she suggested. “But ultimately what we need to agree is margins,” she insisted. That will require “regulation about what a margin can be as a minimum,” she added.

Watch videos of all the sessions at FFA2019 here >

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