How to avoid buying non-vegan products

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Companies and manufacturers are responding to the demand for vegan products with everything from cream cheese to creme eggs. Vegans have never had it so good! It’s just about knowing what to look for when you’re out and about with your shopping basket, says Sarah Hoyle.

Searching for the sunflower

Do you often find yourself wandering through the supermarket aisle staring blankly at a label, trying to convince yourself that you’re happy with the ingredients list before placing your desired item inconspicuously back on the shelf, hoping that nobody has noticed? You’re not alone. Though there are 18,000 products registered with the Vegan Trademark (Ed. - as of March 2021 there were over 48,000 products registered with The Vegan Society), I bet for many of you there are other items on your shopping list that still cause some confusion. Until some supermarkets and manufacturers help us out a bit more with adequate (and correct!) labelling, vegans will continue to face this shopping dilemma.

Unexpected ingredients

Even the most meticulous reader can make mistakes, especially when the most unassuming products turn out not to be vegan. E numbers in bread, silk in shampoo, pearls in deodorant, Vitamin D3 in cereal, glycerine in shower can be a bit overwhelming. Did you know that apples can be coated with shellac after they have been cleaned? And, just in case your soya milk isn’t ‘milky’ enough, some manufacturers have even been known to add whey powder to it! But don’t despair. Realising that it was taking me three hours to do my weekly shop, I decided to educate myself on which ingredients are vegan-friendly, and which are not. I’d like to share my findings with you, in the hope that it might help you to finish your shopping before the store closes.

How to avoid buying things that aren’t suitable for vegans

Use allergy advice as a guide

Under EU Food Information to Consumers 2011 regulation, companies must specify exactly which allergens are in a product. Not only do companies operating in the EU have to state which commonly-named allergens (i.e. 'milk') are contained within the product, these allergens have to stand out in some way: you may find them in bold, or underlined. While this will not cover you for ingredients like honey and egg lecithin, it at least identifies the usual suspects. Very similar regulations operate in Australia, Canada and the USA.

Buy Trademarked products

The Vegan Society trademark team diligently checks every ingredient to ensure the product meets the Society’s criteria. You can shop for over 18,000* Trademarked products with complete confidence.

Do your homework

A quick internet search can prove fruitful, or you can ask manufacturers directly if you are unsure. Many companies have a statement on their website or can provide a list. There are also apps available for smartphones such as Is It Vegan? Remember that there are certain 'rules' to buying vegan-friendly too. For example, juice containing lots of pulp is less likely to have been filtered with animal ingredients. Moreover, organic citrus fruits such as lemons are likely to be waxed with shellac for a 'natural' finish, meaning non-organic may be safer. However only fruit marked as unwaxed will be safe, so do ask in-store to find out more. And don't forget that unless the Vitamin D in cereal is specified as D2 or Vitashine (the only plant-based D3) it is likely to be from lanolin. This is what unfortunately makes all Kellog's cereals not vegan-friendly.

Ask your friends

Join a vegan group in your area through our Local Contacts. Share what you eat, experiment with new ideas or support local vegan-friendly restaurants together. I’ve made some jaw-dropping discoveries while eating with friends.

Getting your head around all those E numbers

E numbers are code names for food additives, and they can seem confusing to the untrained eye. But it doesn’t take long to get the hang of them. Here are a few to remember:

E Number What is it? Uses Action to take
 E120  Cochineal (another name for carminic acid, a pigment taken from the abdomen)  Food colouring and cosmetics  Avoid


 Lecithin (can be made from soya or, less commonly, from eggs)  Emulsifier used in wide range of foods  Check the label for the Vegan Trademark  or contact supplier


Glycerol (is mainly plant-based but there are still instances of it being derived from animal fat)  Sweetener and solvent used in wide range  of foods, beverages and cosmetics  Check the label for the Vegan Trademark  or contact supplier
 E542  Edible Bone Phosphate (a product made from the bones of cattle or pigs)  Cosmetics, toothpaste, nutritional  supplement and anti-caking agent   Avoid
 E631 Disodium Inosinate (can be produced from meat, fish or tapioca starch)  Flavour enhancer often found in snack  foods  Check the label for the Vegan Trademark  or contact supplier
 E901  Beeswax  Glazing agent, candles, confectionary,  comestics like moisturisers or lip products  Avoid
 E904  Shellac (derived from the lac beetle)  Furniture polish, glazing agents,  confectionary  Avoid 
 E471  Mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids (sometimes derived from animal fats)  Crisps, bread, dairy-free spread Check the label for the Vegan Trademark  or contact supplier
E920 An amino acid, also known as L-Cysteine Bread, biscuits, wraps Check the label for the Vegan Trademark  or contact supplier

Shopping at the supermarket

In the UK, supermarkets such as the Co-operative, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco usually label their own brand packaging quite well. It is, at the present time, harder to find supermarket branded products labelled ‘vegan’ at either Asda or Morrison’s. Vegan Society Trademarked products are widely available online and at most supermarkets and health food stores, including Holland and Barrett: the latter offer a 10% discount to Vegan Society members too. Beware of products generally targeted at allergy sufferers, such as the 'Free From' sections; these products aren’t automatically vegan. I’ve known people to pick up the ‘free from chicken nuggets’, expecting meat alternatives but instead finding gluten-free versions of the real thing. That said, I’ve been pleased to find vegan-friendly biscuits and chocolate in these sections with little effort.

Look out for the ‘V’ symbol

Living in a non-vegan world, all that we can do is try to be vegan as far as is practical and possible. Some accidental contamination from animal substances is likely in many situations, for example on production lines that are not dedicated to vegan products. Vegetarian products are a good indication that you’re on the right track, as this symbol eliminates many of the ingredients that you would like to avoid as a vegan. Watch out for eggs, dairy, and products derived from insects, such as silk, honey, beeswax, and shellac. Take care to avoid lanolin from sheep’s wool, found in many soaps, cosmetics, and creams.

Get more products labelled with the Vegan Trademark

Imagine being able to pick up any product in any shop and immediately know from the label whether it’s suitable for vegans or not? Encouraging the manufacturers of your favourite products to apply for our Trademark is a great way to support our work and make it easier for others to go vegan. Merely send a polite email or letter to a company whose product you’ve bought recently – or whose product you didn’t buy because you couldn’t tell if it was vegan or not. Ask the company if that product is suitable for vegans, and if they would consider registering it with The Vegan Society’s Trademark

Be a savvy shopper

The trick is to stay one step ahead. Think about what ingredients could be present and how the offending ingredients are used. Beeswax is sometimes used in confectionary or lip balm but will be an unlikely contestant for a loaf of bread. And chances are, there won’t be any lanolin in your orange juice, but it could be present in hair conditioners. You will be surprised at how much variety there is once you’ve built up the confidence to check.

While this all may seem a bit daunting if you're a new vegan or have limited time or money to shop, take heart. Veganism seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, animal use and exploitation, so taking baby steps towards your goals may well be necessary. It doesn't make you any less vegan if you slip up now and again. And remember: The Vegan Society is here to support you if you need more advice or help.

*As of March 2021 there are over 48,000 products registered with The Vegan Society - Ed.

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Hi! In argentina there are a lot of vegans but we haven't any of the products in the worldwide..How can i import them? Thanks!

Hi Joaquin, Usually stores import vegan goods on request from lots of vegans. Try canvassing a local shop with other vegans (such as a health food shop) to import more vegan goods. If you yourself was thinking of setting up a vegan shop, then lots of our Trademark holders would be happy to arrange importing them, it's just a matter of money. Ali

this was very helpful

How can we trust the sunflower symbol when a few days back I bought a chocolate, it had the symbol, but after reading the ingredients I noticed it could have traces of milk.


The Vegan Trademark is strict about cross contamination and for companies to do everything they can to prevent cross contamination - that being said there is still a very small chance that cross contamination can occur, hence the 'may contain' warning which is purely information for allergy sufferers.

If you are in the UK supermarkets like Superdrug, Co-op and Sainsburys own brand toothpaste are vegan. You can also search through Trademarked products to find vegan toothpaste:

Hi I have been vegetarian for 28 years and after being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I thought it was time to become vegan and improve my diet and health, which was easy and great until 2 weeks in I learnt the truth about cane sugar ! I was disgusted to learn that cane sugar is filtered through a carbon filter and that the carbon filter is made of bone char !! So now my life has become so complicated and my diet is very limited ! I do feel better for not having sugar and I do make some puddings and biscuits using British beet sugar , but cane sugar really is in everything. I just wanted to know what the Vegan society's views are on this ? Thanks

Why not,instead of buying ready to eat or cook packaged food.Buy a good mixture of vegetables and cook enough for your particular meal in a rice cooker/steamer.You can steam cook vegetables and rice in one utensil.Even a pressure cooker would do.The main thing is,you would see,and control what you eat rather than trust to something in a packet,in which all you can see is alleged edibles in a batter or breadcrumbs,which alleges to be vegan and may not be.Eat what you can see and select and buy when possible from local growers or even a supermarket.

Hi What is the vegan society view of May contain traces of milk or made in a factory that handles milk ? I have always thought it makes it not vegan Thks Joan

As I'm sure you are aware, I hold your symbol on my products, but one thing I have notice while shopping myself, is that even though products contain the logo, it is not always easy to find it. My suggestion is why not encourage logo holders to site the logo in the same place on all products, say top left of the product, easy to see for everyone. this could be fazed in over a few years, to avoid excessive cost to producers, as its not cheap to change package designs, but for all new logo holders, it would then become standardized and easy to find on all vegan products.

Hi Helen, Don't worry - it's in the US and Canada that cane sugar is filtered through bone char, but not all of it. You are safe in the EU.

Hi Joan Cross contamination in unavoidable for example chocolate made in a completely vegan factory will still have traces of insects in it due to the way the cocoa beans are harvested. This doesn't mean that it cannot be classed as vegan if cross contamination is limited as much as possible, according to Vegan Trademark standards.

I cook what is the best vegan margarine

Hi, Are there any Vegan biscuits in the UK? Thanks

Do a search for biscuits and cookies to find vegan biscuits and cookies on our Trademark search: Lots of common biscuits are vegan-friendly too like Jammie Dodgers, Fox's dark chocolate chunkie cookies, lots of ginger nuts/chocolate bourbons, Aldi's dark chocolate digestives,etc. Have a look at the ingredients when you next go shopping at your favourite biscuits!

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