International Vegetarian Union (IVU)

8 - 14th November 2004
Costão do Santinho Resort & Spa
Santinho Beach - Florianópolis - Brazil

Selling the Symbol :
The Vegetarian Society's Seedling Licence Scheme

a talk by Tina Fox
Chief Executive, Vegetarian Society UK

Note: Tina says "these are only guidelines as I ad lib a lot"


The Vegetarian's Society's famous, but misunderstood symbol (most people think it is a v or a tick) was first used in 1966 and registered in 1976 as a trademark for the use on printed materials only. The symbol, designed by member Mike Storm, actually represents a sprouting seedling and it further developed in the 1980's and was licensed for the first vegetarian food product in 1985, although registration of the symbol did not proceed smoothly due to opposition from Yorkshire TV who thought our symbol looked like theirs! Our first client was Kallo, who produce cheese and I am pleased to say they are still clients and use the symbol .Since then the symbol's use has continued to grow and to expand in its areas of use. Although the use is officially administered by the trading company, VSUK Ltd, which is wholly owned by the Charity, the trustees and staff of the Charity do make changes in its use from time to time. So, for example, early in its history it was decided only free-range eggs would be acceptable as an ingredient and in August 1998, it was decided that GM ingredients would not be approved. It addition, following consultation with licence holders, the styling of the symbol was updated in late 1997 and most of our customers now use the more modern version of the logo though we still allow use of the old logo for those with limited space or other considerations.

The Society rigorously protects the use of its logo, aided and abetted by our sharp eyed members who are quick to report if they see it being used on any questionable products or in any unlikely manner. It is surprising how easy it is for mistakes to happen as the AA found out to their cost when their designer downloaded our symbol from our Website and used it in a free book promotion they were doing with Renault , they ended up having to pay for a licence for the year rather than recall thousands of books. Similarly in 2000 we found a producer of cookery CD-ROM's was using it on a Chinese cookery CD-ROM, not only illegally but also inappropriately due to the fact it was on recipes containing fish and chicken. As a result the Director of the company had to have 10,000 copies destroyed and re- press the discs. Wherever possible we try to resolve the situation amicably, so for example last year when that Mars were using it on their website to denote vegetarian products we were able to persuade them of the error of their ways and they withdrew the graphics. Things are sadly not always that amicable - Baxters soups for example stopped using the Society's logo and brought in a new one that was remarkably similar. Once we took the matter to trading standards however they withdrew it and have a very different one now.

Those of us who have been vegetarian for many years, in my case 32 years, will have seen many changes in perception of the vegetarian diet from cranky to fashionable etc. but perhaps one of the most surprising changes, at least in the western world, has been the growth and availability of vegetarian targeted products. Way back in 1972 you could not buy anything vegetarian in the supermarket, only specialised and expensive health stores full of ingredients that you didn't know what to do with. Similarly eating out was a nightmare as you were only likely to be offered an omelette made with battery eggs! According to The Grocer, bible of the food trade in the UK, in March 1998, " the meat free market has changed dramatically over the past few years" and " growing moral awareness" has played a part in driving consumer demand to make the vegetarian market one of the most dynamic growth areas in modern times. The availability of convenience foods opens the moral choice to a large group of people without compromising the practical aspects of their life. The Grocer estimated the commercial value of prepared vegetarian food in the UK in 1999 at £600 million and it has grown substantially since then. So much so that the Food and Drink Federation now has a meat free group which the Society is part of. Tesco claim that of the 8 million customers a week they serve 50% are meat reducing, nearly half of their filled pasta range is veggie and 1/3 of their ready meals sold are veggie also. In addition 90% of their cheeses are now also vegetarian. A report from Mintel ( Marketing Intelligence) published in June 2000 was very optimistic for the future of the vegetarian market and has identified that nearly half of the UK's population are vegetarian "appreciators" and the demand for such products continues to grow with the only resistance in the retired age groups.

Of this slice of veggie pie, the meat alternatives constitute quite a chunk, clearly many of us like the taste and texture of meat but not the source of the product. Now consumers can have the taste and texture of the bacon butty, a very English snack, without the guilt, a fact the Society reinforced in conjunction with Redwood Foods in National Bacon Week in 1998 when we circulated packets of veggie bacon to hungry journalists and radio presenters. No less than 5 different varieties of veggie bacon are on sale in the UK and the Society currently only licences three of them, McCartney , Quorn and Redwoods brands. As well as Soya meat alternatives in the UK a company called Marlow Foods produces a range made from Myco protein called "Quorn". This is available in chunks, chicken flavour slices, bacon, pate etc and in a number of ready meals. As it is low in fat and has a good texture it is an excellent product. The company originally used battery egg white as a binder but has been working with the Society for many years to attempt to replace it. Finally early in 2000 we were able to approve about 1/3 of their range as they have set up farms in Brittany and now Italy in order to comply with our and their customer's requirement for free range egg. They intend to replace the battery egg content in the entire range and are aiming for the end of 2004. Meat and Fish alternatives continue to be a very popular category in the Society's Awards - we are now on our fourth year and Marlow won this year with Quorn mince and Cauldron last year with their Lincolnshire sausages.

A plethora of "suitable for vegetarians" symbols adorns UK vegetarian products but many are meaningless as they are not independently assessed and there is no legal definition in the UK re vegetarianism. ( FSA!) Increasingly the Society's own is being sought by those companies who take the matter more seriously. Each month new companies join the Society's scheme assisting both the Society's income and the public's confidence. 2004 has been a particularly busy year but our most controversial approval has been the approval of a range of products in McDonalds including breakfast items, muffins and a quorn premiere. This has met with some opposition from some of the Society's members but others feel it is a great step forward in the market to have proper veggie food in this bastion of meat sales. Thanks to McDonalds UK and VSUK all of the yoghurt served in European outlets is now vegetarian whereas before it contained gelatine.

Criteria & Approval

The Society licence will not be granted on any product that contains any:

  • Animal flesh
  • Meat, fish or bone stock or stock cubes
  • Animal carcass fats
  • Gelatine, aspic, or gelatine based products
  • Eggs or egg products, other than free range
  • Royal Jelly
  • E numbers containing any of the same
  • Products or ingredients animal tested since 1986
  • Genetically modified products or ingredients.

In addition the producer must be able to demonstrate that no cross contamination can occur between vegetarian and non vegetarian production lines, including all associated tools and machinery. Factory visits pay particular attention to this area, so, for example, food cannot be baked in tins or dishes greased with non-vegetarian fat and vegetarian products cannot be fried in the same oil as non-vegetarian. (This is a particular problem for example in fast food chains - Burger King avoids this cross contamination by microwaving the approved Veggie Whopper and McDonalds similarly with the Quorn premiere).

Companies interested in using the symbol are sent an application pack, which includes all the criteria with more detail (for example the Society's definition of free-range eggs and some frequently asked questions about ingredients). More recently this information has also been added to the Society's website for companies to consider and download together with an application form.

If the company then feels one of their current ingredients is questionable staff from the Corporate Relations section which administers the scheme can usually assist with advice on alternative ingredients and suppliers, often they are able to bring new business to existing clients in this way as we approve ingredient manufacturers as well as those producing finished products. Once an application form is completed, ingredients are scrutinised and an audit trail established. Usually, unless the product is a very straightforward one, supplementary material is sought from the applicant. Once both the process and ingredients are agreed negotiations proceed to the licence fee, based on turnover, and the legal contract. It is usually at this stage that a factory inspection may be arranged and as you can imagine there were quite a few for the McDonalds range! In general it depends on what else is produced at the factory as to whether a visit is necessary. When all parties are agreed a start date for the licence is settled, the contract is signed and the Society provides the relevant artwork for use of the symbol. Obviously, due to lead times on packaging and to the varying complexity of the products this can prove a very lengthy process or a very short one. Usually the larger the company the longer the paperwork takes! Once approved the Society'sCommunications team will often get involved in press work for the new licence holder.

The Society's trademark is registered for a large range of products and is used on convenience foods, soups, ingredients, fresh foods, diary products, beverages, books and magazines, cruelty free cosmetics and even a camera! As well as the UK it is registered and used across the EEC, in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and South Africa.

Marketing Support

It is the intention that the logo will benefit both the Society and the licence holder. We expect both parties to increase revenue and profile as a result of its use. As a result, once a new product is approved the Communications section of the Society will work with the client together with Corporate Relations in ways to promote the product. All new products are initially reported in the Society's magazine, circulated to all members in the seedling showcase supplement. In addition the Society may assist, via the Cordon Vert cookery school, with recipe development for leaflets, books or specific promotions. Product give-away and competions may also be used, either in the Society magazine or elsewhere and the Society/ client may carry out a mailing to members and other enquirers from our extensive database. In May 2000 for example, we carried out a mailing to 70,000 known vegetarians with So Good Soya milk.
For a major or unusual new approval press work will also be carried out which can result in more extensive media coverage for example TV interviews when we approved a vegetarian beer, Viva, and very extensive coverage when we approved the first vegetarian camera ( digital) for Ricoh which amazed the PR company, Techniques, with the extent of the coverage.

GM Issues

In August 1998 the trustees, following much consideration, approved changes to the licence which meant that no products would be approved which contained GMO ingredients as these will have been tested on animals and the effect such ingredients on both the health of the consumer and the environment is as yet unknown. All existing clients were given 12 months to find alternative sources of ingredients and by working closely with Greenpeace and others the Society was able to offer advice on alternative sources of Soya beans and other ingredients. Obviously this has meant more work for some companies than others, as many of the smaller brands for example did not contain Soya, whereas the McCartney brand has replaced Soya by wheat protein throughout the entire range.

This led initially to a loss of some of our clients; for example Van den Burghs, but companies more in tune with their customer's demands have rapidly replaced these. It was noticeable to the Society that we received more correspondence and communication from members and non-members alike on this issue than any other for a long time. The move towards organic food very much confirms the interest of the public in Britain and beyond in "pure" food.

In an NOP survey carried out in 1999 80% of those questioned said that they would prefer to buy food that was cruelty free and good for the environment, this is confirmed by the current concern over GMO's and a swing towards organic food that giants such as Sainsburys, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer's have been very quick to capitalise on. We are aware that a diet exists that answers the need of this 80%, increasingly so are they and the commercial sector is being driven to provide for those needs. People are literally eating their way to a better planet.

The Future

The value of the Society's symbol is increasingly being recognised and we hope that one-day such an independent symbol will be required by law in the same way as it is for the organic market. This is the only way that companies who do not understand vegetarianism can be stopped from making spurious claims and it is something we will be working towards. The Society is often called upon by Trading Standards, who assist consumers in issues over misrepresentation etc., over products which claim to be vegetarian and contain unsuitable ingredients, most frequently gelatine but also other products such as animal fat (lard) , cochineal (crushed beetles) or dubious e-numbers. Only this month we have found Tesco to be claiming a product is vegetarian when clearly in the ingredients is specified fish paste! In a survey carried out jointly with McCain's the Society found that our symbol had a very high recognition and, even more important, it was trusted by 96% of those questioned as opposed to 45% on own brand symbols. A further survey carried out by MAFF ( Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries) in 2000 indicated that just under a quarter of respondents had seen the Society's symbol as compared with a third for Marks and Spencer's - pretty good going when you consider the difference in our marketing budgets ! We feel however that we need to continue to increase awareness both of our symbol and its criteria and we will be undertaking some PR work in Red magazine to 120,000 households in the near future. It is important that any vegetarian group wishing to either licence their own logo or use the Society's ( we can enter agreements with other countries societies and have one with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) ensure that they have the voluntary or staff resources to do so. If the use of the logo is not properly controlled and policed sadly it will become worthless. If any organisation wishes to work with us in this way please feel free to contact me at