We think it is important to clarify a few things when it comes to contacting manufacturers to find out of a product is vegan or not. Below we have put together a guide for anyone that wants to contact a manufacturer. Firstly, we would like to say that we already do all this work for you and you can find the vegan status of over 55,000 products on our app, but if you don’t want to spend the $5.99 on our app, or for whatever reason would like to confirm something yourself, then here is how:
1. When contacting a manufacturer, NEVER use Facebook or other social media to ask these questions of a manufacturer. We would recommend phoning them directly, or at least emailing, but we prefer phoning and we will explain why below.
2. When you phone a manufacturer, you can try and ensure that you are speaking with the correct person to answer your question and not just a receptionist, or similar that doesn’t really know how to look up the correct answers as to whether a product is vegan or not. If the person you are speaking to is just reading information off of the manufacturers website, then you have the WRONG person. If that person will not transfer you to the correct person, hang up and try again later, or the next day. We have spent over 600 hours (and no that is not an exaggeration) on the phone with various manufacturers over the past six months or so as we started to develop our Fussy Vegan Scanner app and we have learnt how to work out if we are speaking with the right person or not. We are comfortable in saying we are experts in contacting manufactures about the vegan status of a product.
3. Do NOT ask them if a product is vegan or not. Why? Because there is a 50/50 chance they will say it is not vegan, simply because the product is not certified as vegan. Now, this is important to clarify. Just because a product is not certified as vegan does not mean the product is not vegan. In fact, in Australia, as far as food labelling laws are concerned, there is no legal definition of the word vegan, or kosher or Halal for the matter. The reason being is that those terms have nothing to do with food safety, and are simply terms used for personal beliefs, so they are not considered by food labelling laws to be legally defined. So being certified as vegan just means that the company has paid a vegan group, such as the Vegan Society, PETA, etc to be certified under their programs. It is NOT a legal certification in Australia.
We consider a product vegan if there is no animal ingredients used either in the product or in the manufacturing and processing of the product and if the product has not been tested on animals. Again, whilst there is no legal definition in Australia of the word vegan, we think most people would agree that the requirements we listed above would make the product vegan. Most products are manufactured in a facility that also manufactures non vegan products, and this is often a reason for not labelling the product as vegan. The fact is, hygiene standards in modern manufacturing plants are quite high, and the actual risk of an animal ingredient being in your vegan product is so low, we would not even worry about it.
4. Ask specific questions about the product. What we mean is instead of just asking if the product is vegan or not, make sure you have read the ingredients label first and find any questionable ingredients. Questionable ingredients are those that could be either animal or non animal derived, such as additives 415 or 471, or natural flavours (there are many other). Once you have the questionable ingredients that you have to enquire about, ask them specifically: Is the 471 used in this product animal derived? Repeat for each questionable ingredient. Once you have established if any of the questionable ingredients are animal derived, then, the next question to ask is: Are any animal derived ingredients used in the processing of this product even if those animal derived ingredients are not present in the final product? This question is important for particular products, like apple juice or wine, where gelatine and other animal ingredients are often used in the filtration process. The last question to ask is: Do you either do any animal testing on your products or do you pay other entities to do animal testing on your products? Now, if you get all of these answers, you can make a determination if the product is vegan or not. Can you now understand the difference between just asking if the product is vegan or not and asking more specific and detailed questions that will better answer the question of whether a product is vegan or not.
5. Ask about ONE product at a time and give them the UPC (barcode) number of the product, just to ensure that you both are talking about the same product. Some manufacturers make many similar products that may have different ingredients in them and you could be talking about one product and the person you are speaking to could be referring to a different product.
6. Always ask the person you are speaking to if they are 100% sure about their response to you. If not, ask them politely if they can follow up and get back to you to be 100% sure.
7. Don’t be surprised or upset if the manufacturer has to get back to you at a later date as they might need to follow up with their quality assurance team (or similar). We would recommend phoning them directly, or at least emailing, but we prefer phoning and we will explain why below.
8. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT post on social media about the vegan status of a product unless you have either found the product on a reputable source, such as our Fussy Vegan Scanner app, or you have taken the above steps to find out if the product is truly vegan or not. Whilst well intentioned, you can actually be spreading incorrect information about a product and that is not good for anyone. There is enough fake news out on the internet as it is, we don’t need to add to it with wrong information about whether a product is vegan or not.
9. One last point. NEVER rely on either a manufacturer or supermarket website to get the ingredients for a product. Check the actual product label. Why? Because there is a lot more chance of mistakes (and we have found many) about ingredients on both the Coles and Woolworths websites, and even some manufacturers websites. There are a couple of reasons we say this. Firstly, there is normally just some worker doing data entry for each and every product listing that gets put on a supermarket website and it is easy to make mistakes, we find them all the time. When a manufacturer prints product packaging, there would be at least a few people that would have to sign off on the design and accuracy of the packaging, so there is a minimal chance of the ingredients being wrong.
Another reason is that the manufacturer might decide to change the ingredients in a product, but because it is an existing product, the supermarkets don’t normally update the ingredients for that product on their website.