helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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stupid Sainsbury's

Sainsbury's supermarket has decided to stop putting a "suitable for vegans" label on the front of all their own-brand food products. Apparently, they "do not feel it is vital information".

What I actually feel about this is unprintable, and it's not as if this journal is a swearword-free zone. But I'm so ridiculously angry that it's taken me an hour and 15 minutes to write something coherent enough to send off to their customer services.

jonnynexus writing in ukvegans describes what shopping in Sainsbury's has been like up until now: "... like Disneyland for vegans. We've been like kids let loose in a sweet shop. Gravy (which we put in soups, stews and everything!), ice lollies, chocolate sauces, apple strudels, biscuits - all the things that we can't usually eat because they contain unspecified "flavourings" just waiting for us to grab them, take them home, and eat them.

It didn't matter to me that Sainsburys costs more than Tescos. It didn't matter that my nearest store was much further away than my *three* local Tescos superstores. It didn't matter that it had limited opening hours (compared to their 24 hour opening).

This is the email I'm just about to send to Sainsbury's. I've included it because it has some points that hasn't been brought up in ukvegans- most importantly, the number of non-vegans who will choose to buy vegan products for various reasons, and how Sainsbury's consumer tracking is underestimating the number of vegans due to the sheer number of us who live in omnivorous households.

I am absolutely dismayed to read online that you have decided to stop printing "suitable for vegans" clearly on the front of your own brand food products.

I switched from Tesco's to Sainsbury's about 4 years ago BECAUSE of your vegan labelling - although I only became vegan a year ago! I have severe lactose intolerance and casein allergy, meaning that I have to completely avoid all animal milks and their byproducts. The fact that I could pick up any own-brand product on your shelves and see INSTANTLY if it was suitable for me has saved me many hours of shopping time. My other lactose-intolerant and casein-allergic friends will all agree with this.

People choose vegan products for a large number of reasons. MANY of the people who want to buy vegan products are not themselves vegan. For example, Alpro soya milk is selling itself as ideal to reduce blood cholesterol levels (soy protein has been clinically proven to do this), or to help women going through the menopause (due to the natural plant phytoestrogens present). Every time I'm in the supermarket I see people buying large quantities of Alpro milk alongside normal cow cheese and meat products. A person with a fish, shellfish, dairy or egg allergy will choose a vegan product because that word "vegan" guarantees that the animal product/s they cannot eat is absent. A person with religious dietary restrictions will choose a vegan product because it guarantees that no prohibited animal product/s is present. People who have friends, family members or co-workers who are vegan, allergic or religiously observant will buy vegan products to ensure their friend, relative or co-worker has something safe to eat. And people who want to reduce their environmental impact or carbon dioxide footprint will increase their intakes of vegan foods while remaining omnivorous. The kind of people who eat organic, free range meat and organic, Fairtrade fruit and vegetables will also be gradually reducing their animal protein intake, and be looking for organic, vegan dishes to accompany their meal.

Apparently you want to "make more room for allergy information". Does that mean you'll be printing DAIRY-FREE in large, friendly letters on the front of every packet of food that is suitable for me to eat? Because if not, this really isn't doing me any favours. I will have to go back to picking up every single product, every single time, flipping it over to read the allergy box on the back where it says "CONTAINS: MILK" or whatever, and read through all the ingredients to make sure no whey powder or butterfat has sneaked in. Because a person with a real allergy can't actually trust those allergy boxes. For example, only yesterday someone gave me a packet of Morrisons dark chocolate digestive biscuits, believing them to be safe for me to eat, because the allergy box on the back only said "CONTAINS GLUTEN AND SOYA" - yet when I read the packet closely, butteroil was one of the ingredients of the chocolate!

Apparently, you believe that being vegan is a "lifestyle choice". I would argue that this is not true for all vegans. I became vegetarian due to waffly 13 year old girly logic of not wanting to eat dead things, and stuck with it because I'm stubborn. But I only became vegan because I was forced to as I developed more and more allergies and intolerances to animal proteins. Before I became vegan, eating was a difficult procedure involving large quantities of IBS medication, painkillers and digestive enzymes; and I would have regular days off work because I could not leave the bathroom. Once I switched to an entirely plant-based diet, I discovered I could eat anything I wanted, including alliums like garlic and sulphurous vegetables that I hadn't been able to eat in years. My IBS and ezcema have disappeared completely, and my asthma is much better. Is that a "lifestyle choice"? Only in as much as a person would choose to be healthy over being very ill all the time.

Are religions considered "lifestyle choices"? Some people are vegan because of their religion, or choose vegan products when shopping in a mainstream supermarket to avoid any cross-contamination with forbidden animal products. Unless these people live in areas with a large Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim population, you won't have a special "halal" or "kosher" section of your supermarket for them to shop in. So they will be forced to go to other retailers that respect their dietary preferences.

It may also be that you are underestimating the number of vegans you serve. Not everyone has a Nectar card or remembers to use it each week, and I don't think you recognise that I am vegan based on my purchasing history. I believe when I registered the card I ticked a box to say I was vegetarian and a box to say I was teetotal, but you didn't ask me if I was vegan or had food allergies. And I have to buy cow milk most weeks because I have two friends who visit me regularly who are allergic to soy milk. I know you have sent me a birthday card in the past offering me a free tub of Green & Black's ice cream - which makes some sense based on the colossal quantities of Green & Black's cocoa powder and dark chocolate that I get through. Yet the fact I've only ever bought Sainsbury's Freefrom or Swedish Glace soya ice cream doesn't seem to have been registered!

I just cannot see how alienating a small but significant number of your regular customers is going to improve your customer service; nor can I see how it will save you money when I have to ring your freephone line every single week to make sure the contents of a product I buy have not changed. Just 100 extra people ringing the helpline every single week is going to be significant for your running costs. Similarly, it will do little for profits when most of the people who want to buy vegan foods end up shopping exclusively in the Co-Op, independent health food shops or other mainstream supermarkets that take more care with their labelling. Waitrose, for example, bother to list the ingredients of all instore bakery products, and clearly label all fruit and vegetables with country and even county of origin, so I can ensure I buy locally-produced foods to limit the number of food miles.

In conclusion:
1) You serve a lot of vegans that you may not have noticed because they live in omnivorous households.
2) People who want to buy vegan products are not necessarily themselves vegan.
3) The allergy boxes on food products are not reliable - whereas, until recently, your "vegan" flash WAS.
4) Other retailers are busy ADDING "suitable for vegans" to their products while you've decided to REMOVE it!

So I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision.

If you are vegan - or have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products - or vegetarian and thinking of becoming vegan - or belong to a religious group that avoids certain animal products - or if you've ever bought a vegan product for a friend, relative or co-worker - PLEASE send Sainsbury's an email here or ring their Customer Careline on freephone 0800 636 262 or Typetalk 18001 0800 636 262. They really need to know how many people this is going to inconvenience, and how many people are going to end up shopping elsewhere. It might not make a difference, but you never know.
Tags: allergies suck, rants, uk, vegan

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