The world of vegan e-commerce in India is exploding

And it isn’t just vegans behind the trend.

Photo by MealPro on Unsplash

Thanks to a sudden spurt in healthful living triggered by the pandemic, vegan e-commerce is truly seeing its day in the sun.

As per media reports, since the onset of the pandemic, Indian vegan e-commerce platforms like Vegandukan, and Veganmall have seen double digit growth rates, which is unparalleled in all of their time in existence. Indian consumers are becoming health conscious, investing more than ever in boosting their health and improving their immunity due to the Covid scare. But it isn’t just herbal teas and plant-based supplements that are seeing such huge sales.

There’s herbal Kashayas, Ayurvedic Rasayanas, millet based convenience food, dry fruit and nut mixes, superfood tonics and mixes, multivitamins, probiotics, vegan betternatives, and much more.

It seems that the pandemic has not only sparked a gold rush for immunity, but also ignited a curiosity about plant-based gourmet food never seen before. While the not-so-healthy food trends like Dalgona coffee and mug cakes were doing the rounds, there was a simultaneous trend of Ayurvedic and herbal restorative drinks, with people making their own versions using locally available Indian herbs at home.

Long gone are the days where people would meet you with bewildered looks as you explained the concept of veganism to them. Today, it is more likely that they are already aware of it, albeit with a few misconceptions here and there. With a spurt in the number of vegan restaurants, cafes, and more importantly, vegan friendly menus at traditional restaurants, veganism has come a long way in India.

Early stage vegans
The earliest adopters of veganism in India are perhaps the most benevolent and compassionate people one can probably find on the planet. Just think about it for a minute. They literally had to get by with none of the vegan comfort food, which is available to today’s generation at the swipe of a finger.

That’s right. There were no ice creams, no chocolates, no cakes and no vegan pizza. They had to make everything right from scratch.

With a cornucopia of plant-based goodness to choose from, ranging from Kombucha and coconut milk chocolate, to single origin coffee and jackfruit mock meat, today’s vegans are a lot that’s spoiled rotten with choices.

The birth of the vegan restaurant scene

Everyone craves for a culinary change in their lives every now and then. And it is with this mindset, that the vegan-curious, or shall we say, flexitarians, are fuelling the growth of veganism in India.

Bangalore got its very first vegan restaurant, sweetly named ‘Carrots’ back in 2012. Then came a few more hip joints here and there. Then came a few more.

And some more. Only to realize that they really wouldn’t make it in the long run if all they offered was healthy vegan food. People had gotten quite used to the oil rich, hot and spicy, processed fare from other joints, that their taste buds were all but numb from all the masala and spice.

So what did they do?

They took a step back, studied the market again and reinvented themselves.

Because once they realized that most people don’t become hardcore vegans in India, or wouldn’t necessarily buy from them after doing so, they had to cater to a permanently floating population. They also had to contend with the fact that most people aware of veganism move out of the country in search of better standards of living within a couple of years after gaining such knowledge and achieving the financial means to do so. With most Indian cities increasingly becoming unlivable by the day, the early stage vegans have all but disappeared. They’ve either migrated to Europe, the U.S, U.K, or the Middle East to work live and study.

The organizer of the Bangalore vegan potluck told me all about it one day right at the event. Most people migrate to urban centers like Bangalore and Mumbai to get employed in a reputed firm, develop their skills, and then move abroad. No one wants to stay back in the country anymore. It definitely makes sense to move to a better country with much infrastructure and minimal civic problems once you hit a certain income bracket.

For most people who’ve hit that bracket, its become less about the money and more about their standard of living; the infrastructure, the civic amenities, the livability index, transport, housing, schooling for their kids, etc. And hence, the mass exodus from the country every year.

The spurt of online stores

This has led a lot of vegan entrepreneurs who latched onto the initial wave of veganism with their physical stores and restaurants to move online and see the response there. Since for most people, veganism is either a passing fad or something they don’t adhere to religiously, it made much better sense for entrepreneurs catering to this space to move the entire scene online.

Because in that way, even if the product isn’t selling as expected, you still aren’t bleeding yourself out to rent, water, electricity, salaries, and the whole 9 yards of responsibility that come with keeping a physical store afloat.

But that was 5 years ago.

Could the phenomenal success of today’s online vegan marketplaces signal the re-entry of veganism into the physical arena? After all, no one could have predicted the runaway success that vegan e-commerce has seen in recent times, could they?

A few popular vegan stores online that are thriving today:

Urban Platter
Vegandukan

Vegan betternatives and comfort food

Remember when the story broke about how the humble Jackfruit started getting exported to the U.S to make a vegan pulled pork replacement? In case you don’t, here’s that story:

It was just a matter of time before somebody realized its potential as a vegan meat substitute and made a killing out of it. If you check out Wakao’s website, you’ll notice that they have not just one, but multiple versions of jackfruit meat. Yes! Veganism in India has come such a long way that today you can literally rejoice in the goodness of a juicy jackfruit burger after a hard day’s work.

100% cruelty free. No bloodshed involved!

Gone are the days when veganism was dull, boring, and lacked a fresh youngster appeal. Today, you can get everything from vegan milks, cheese, yoghurt, and butter, to mock meat, cakes, ice creams and even pizzas delivered right to your doorstep.

Brands such as Live Yum and Urban Platter have done a great job at making a variety of vegan cheese available locally:

And if you thought the world of veganism was restricted to food, think again!

There’s entire sections on most vegan e-commerce platforms dedicated to wellness and body care. From soaps, shampoos, lotions and moisturizers, to coffee scrubs, vegan body butters, and aroma candles, the list is endless.

If anyone predicted a few years back that veganism would in fact, have its time in the sun one fine day, that time better be now!

Never before in India has the modern day consumer had access to such a large assortment of vegan delectables, all available at just a few mouse clicks. Early vegans speak of an era reminiscent of them waking up just to milk the almonds, or to even make their very own tofu.

Boy oh boy, look how the tides have turned!

New finds in mainstream physical stores

Just the other day, a friend and I were out shopping and were casually scrolling through the cheese section at a supermarket. And guess what we found? Vegan cheese! That’s right. Not one, but two brands of vegan cheese.

When I first went vegan back in 2015, Soy milk and Tofu were the only items that could probably pique ones interest as a vegan. Those two, and may be Bournville chocolates (which are unfortunately not vegan anymore).

At least the soy milk came in flavours. Thank goodness for that!

Fast forward to 2021, and you’ll be stumped by the sheer number of vegan products that are on display at conventional stores. From a diverse range of plant milks available in different flavours and textures, to a wide variety of dairy-free ice creams, curd, and cheese, there is no dearth of options at mainstream stores for today’s vegans.

From being left out in the desert with not a drop of water to drink, to being completely spoiled for choice, veganism has come a mighty long way!

Final thoughts

As evinced by the information above, the world of vegan e-commerce in India is growing exponentially. And with vegans making up such a minuscule portion of the population, you can bet your bottom dollar it isn’t them who are the reason for the success of online vegan stores. It’s flexitarians.

Flexitarians make up the lions share in the sales of vegan and gourmet foods. A new band of consumers, flexitarians aren’t necessarily vegan, vegetarian, or meat eaters but rather a group that swings between the three at their own convenience. They are a sub group of health conscious consumers who’d like to eat and live healthy, but don’t believe that it should come at the cost of convenience.

So if you’re biting into a delicious mock meat burger, or digging into a bowl of smooth rich dairy-free ice cream right now, thank a flexitarian.

I am an avid trekker, content writer, photographer and sports enthusiast. I write about trekking, society, overpopulation, lifestyle and veganism in general.