Vegan online shops are becoming more popular these days, specially in the USA but here in Europe it is still hard to find these options. They exist in the UK and in Germany, basically. We also know about one in Rome, but that’s it. Hopefully there are many others that we just don’t know – and would love to! – or that many others are about to come.
Personally, I still prefer going to a store to buy my vegan goodies but it’s convenient having the option to buy online. A couple of months ago I got in touch with Miriam Brilla, founder of Boutique Vegan, an online shop based in Germany, launched this summer. She kindly agreed to team up for an exclusive GIVEAWAY to our European swappers and also took heir time to answer our interview.
For NOVEMBER edition of VEGAN PACKAGE SWAP we are giving away THREE OF THESE AMAZING PACKAGES FROM BOUTIQUE VEGAN. For a chance to win, all you have to do is to JOIN THE SWAP (login in the website between November 5th and 7th and click on the link “join the swap”) and be an European (mainland) resident. Winners will be contacted on the 9th of November.
Double your chance to win! By joining NOVEMBER edition as a SUPER SWAPPER you will have twice the entries for this giveaway!!
Tell us a little bit about the story behind Boutique Vegan. When it was born, who runs it, etc.
“Boutique Vegan was created to provide a one-stop vegan lifestyle shop that simply celebrates a modern compassionate lifestyle with a full range of high quality products for everyone to enjoy.” This is the first part of the “About US” in the website and it define us (you can read more here)!
I, Miriam Brilla, founded Boutique Vegan in October 2012 and the shop was launched in August 2013. My background is international, I’ve travelled a lot when I was a kid and grew up across Asia and Africa. This was not always easy at times but I would never want to miss that experience of living amongst totally different cultures, meeting inspiring people and giving me such a strong bond with my family.
I studied finance in the hospitality field and worked in real estate investments and events before I founded Boutique Vegan. Basically I’ve been vegetarian for years before I eventually turned vegan, due to my compassion for animals. During my financial studies I was involved SRI (socially responsible investment) topics and focused on the issue of GMOs and our food supply. This is where I made the link between the environmental situation, animal, human and social welfare. It all came together, the influence of biotech and pharma corporations, meat and dairy industry, public media influence, etc. etc…
Boutique Vegan was created when I was living in France for a while, because I did not find a shop that offers a good range of vegan products. Also, it was very exhausting to spend time reading labels, researching on companies, manufacturing methods, and so on. Modern life does not necessarily mean we’ve got a bunch of extra time to invest on constantly staying up to date on labelling issues, chemical food ingredients, analysing the many different certifications for foodstuff…
In addition to not finding the range of products in France, I did not find a shop in Europe that truly met my expectations of being able to purchase a large range of great vegan products, receiving the information I need to make an informed decision and all that in a modern package with the quality service one expects of online shops nowadays. So, I started researching on products and companies and discovered many many great products and projects. As the planning advanced, I realized it is essentially important to address veganism as what it truly is – a modern, compassionate and fun lifestyle! This is what boutique vegan is all about. It is a friendly lifestyle, which can be so easy and at the same time means actively investing in a sustainable, healthy and peaceful future.
Boutique Vegan is designed to offer a wide variety of local and international vegan products, which are selected in a very strict manner – company ethics and ownership structure, sustainable natural ingredients, quality and taste. The Shop is not only designed for vegans and vegetarians, who are already aware of making informed product choices, but also for non-vegans, people with allergies (we have a simple quick filter for that), people interested in vegan lifestyle, natural and organic food and cosmetics, who care for their health, who are into sports – all age groups.
Do you think about having a physical shop some day or the idea is to keep just as an online business?
The reason we are focused on an online business model, is that many people cannot access certain vegan products in remote locations. People have many purchasing options in larger cities with health food stores, organic supermarkets, specialized retail stores, etc. However, many people need to drive long distances before even being able to shop at a health food store. On top of that, they only have a limited vegan product offering. Postal delivery reaches everyone across the country.
The second reason is the amount of information delivered. In a physical store you have the product at hand, maybe a flyer during product promotions and staff members’ knowledge. Although our customers cannot physically touch the product, we provide detailed product descriptions, recipe ideas, background knowledge on ingredients, preparation process, company and producers’ profiles, plus a filter for allergen ingredients. Thus, the volume of information about each product is more profound.
The third aspect is time efficiency. The Boutique Vegan online shop is open 24/7 and delivers straight to your doorstep!
Do you have any best-sellers?
Our best-sellers are definitely our dairy alternatives, as we have many customers with lactose intolerance, who can finally enjoy their cream sauces, pizza with cheese, latte macchiato, yoghurts, puddings and ice cream again!\
You ship to mostly all European countries, right? How is your market? Do you have many orders from outside Germany?
Boutique Vegan is a European online shop, which means we ship across the EU and to Switzerland. Our main markets are the German and French speaking parts of Europe. Due to our multi-lingual product offering and international product range we also have many English speaking customers or customers from other European countries, in which English is the most common international language of communication.
Are your products all organic? If not, how hard do you think it is to get vegan and organic products in Europe? And what are the biggest issues, availability, prices?
Around 70% of our products are certified organic by European and American accredited labels. Most vegan products, or let’s say manufacturers who put a great emphasis on vegan products, are certified organic; in addition to most of them using fairly traded ingredients and produced with sustainable resources, without GMO and artificial flavour enhancers.
Using organic produce is a logical consequence, as sustainability and preserving the nature for future generations is an important component of living a vegan lifestyle. Vegans are generally more aware of production methods, food ingredients, manufacturing processes and the agricultural cycle. An enormous amount of fresh water, crops, waste and farmland can be saved when living on a plant-based diet. Sustainable and organic farming practices are thus a key factor in this context.
Due to the industrialisation of food supply, biotechnology and enormous amounts of subsidies supporting industrial agriculture, the meat and the dairy industry in Europe, prices have been obscured. Hence, we have to re-learn to acknowledge the true value of certain products, as well as pay attention to seasonal availability. The price of a chocolate bar made of wholesome, organic, fairly paid cacao, coconut oil and raw agave nectar compared to a chocolate bar made of cocoa, milk powder and white sugar cannot and should not be compared. The nutritional value, the impact on the environment, the producers and society is completely different. Of course this doesn’t mean organic must necessarily always be more expensive. Yet, it is important for every party of the supply chain to earn a long-term living and not to be exploited.
Many online and also physical vegan shops, specially in the US and Australia, are choosing not having products with palm oil, considering how the extraction is done. I personally found very hard to get vegan and organic products in Italy that were also palm free. Is it easy in Germany? Do you have products with palm oil in the shop?
We are currently introducing a new filter icon “palm-oil free” for http://www.boutique-vegan.com, as per customer request. We also carry products with palm-oil, but most products are palm-oil free. Many companies still using palm-oil are working on new formulations and recipes to avoid palm-oil in the near future. Many have already switched to a palm-oil free manufacturing process. Palm-oil has certain traits that are very unique and highly effective in the food industry, however, we do know that alternatives are readily available. Many companies have addressed this issue and source their palm-oil from certified farms.
Coming back to our best-seller for example, the Violife range of cheeses and spreads are based on coconut oil and completely soy free, palm-oil free and gluten free. They taste, look and melt like dairy cheese – a true innovation!
Is it hard to get cruelty free animal care products? Do you get many orders in the section?
We always try to source the most ethically correct products and manufacturers we can find. Thus, we would also like to avoid indirectly supporting companies that do not comply with our values. Concerning vegan companion animal food and care products, this is still rather hard. However, we did find a vegan family owned brand of dog food V-Dog in the United States, which we now carry in our range. Also we have come across a fantastic range of organic shampoos and conditioner for dogs called Scruffy Chops, made of Dead Sea minerals, oatmeal, aloe vera and vitamins. The founders for example are professional hair stylists who love their dogs and have therefore developed a line of great smelling products with salon quality results. This is another important aspect for boutique vegan; our team must be convinced of the quality, taste and result of any product before we add it to our range!
Finally, let’s talk a little bit about cosmetics. I find very confusing how the laws allow beauty companies to keep using animal tested ingredients in their products and it seems that even with the recent ban in Europe they will still be able to find a way to keep some of these ingredients. How do you see the subject?
We as boutique vegan require all cosmetic brands, manufacturers and their suppliers to refrain from animal testing or hiring a 3rd party to conduct tests on animals. Our entire cosmetics range is natural, mostly certified organic and free of harmful chemicals, petro-chemical compounds or substances affecting the body’s hormone balance.
Although animal testing is “banned” in Europe, there are still too many exemption clauses for substances and chemicals, which is why animal testing for cosmetics is still happening across Germany and Europe too. Reports show that irritation tests on animals cannot simply be projected onto humans. Most substances validated to be safe in animal tests still fail in the 2. round of human testing before the product is sold on the market. Now in days researchers have developed testing methods, which are by far more accurate and which do not involve cruelty and suffering of innocent beings.
Coming back to what I said earlier, the majority of cosmetic products sold in supermarkets and large retail chains are full of harmful substances and basically based on crude oil and harsh chemicals. The concentration of relevant active ingredient (may it be aloe vera, shea butter, vitamins, plant extracts, etc) is so low, I consider it to be a consumer fraud. We are proud to work with companies who create high quality, natural cosmetic products obtaining the equal or even better results while being completely safe for the body and nature.
And last question: we all see how Berlin is getting better and better for vegans. How is it in the other cities in Germany? Is veganism getting bigger bringing more information, products and places to eat in the rest of the country too in your opinion?
Veganism in Germany has been enjoying growing media attention in the last couple of months, meaning the population is now more aware or this topic and its benefits for health, the animals and the environment. Berlin has always been the vegan capital of Germany with many shops, restaurants and events focused on a vegan lifestyle. However, I can see vegan restaurants and organic, vegetarian restaurants with a wide variety of vegan options opening across the country. It has become a lot easier to enjoy vegan meals in cities, as well as smaller towns, too. Although many are declaring veganism a “trend”, I think regarding nutrition people are much more aware of their food choices, due to the growing knowledge of how nutrition is linked to civilization diseases. Given the chance to experience the culinary diversity of plant based foods in those many devoted vegan and organic/vegetarian restaurants and cafés, really shows a lot of people that vegan dining does not mean limitations of taste, texture and variety. Personally I am convinced veganism cannot be put off as a trend, because it is a modern lifestyle for a sustainable, healthier and more peaceful future.