One trend that is set to grow is vegan pies. Puratos UK’s 2019 Taste Tomorrow consumer study shows that 20% of people buy vegan or vegetarian food on a weekly basis and 24% expect to buy more in the future.

We recently spoke to John Gall, Managing Director of Brownings the Bakers, winners of the World Championship Scotch Pie Award for best vegetarian savoury pie, with their vegan sweet potato and lentil korma pie; John confirmed that the pie, along with their vegan sausage roll, is growing in popularity and now sold in supermarkets around the country. It is one of their most successful new products.

But what is a “vegan” product and what rules govern the use of that term?

While a new law is being introduced to govern food labelling, this primarily applies to allergy information. The new legislation, known as ‘Natasha’s Law’, will tighten the rules by requiring foods that are pre-packed directly for sale to carry a full list of ingredients – giving allergy sufferers greater trust in the food they buy. The government will introduce legislation by the end of summer, and the new laws will come into force by summer 2021 – giving businesses time to adapt to the change.

However this does not apply to the labelling of vegan products.

In the UK, guidance released by the Food Standards Agency stated that “manufacturers, retailers and caterers should be able to demonstrate that foods presented as 'vegetarian' or 'vegan' have not been contaminated with non-vegetarian or non-vegan foods during storage, preparation, cooking or display”.

While there is no requirement for food to be labelled vegetarian or vegan, any information provided voluntarily must not mislead consumers or be ambiguous or confusing. Consumer regulation in the UK requires that products are accurately described and fit for purpose.

Getting it wrong may expose a producer to risks of:

  • a claim under the Consumer Rights Act or the Sale of Goods Act for misdescription;
  • an investigation by Trading Standards in relation to any descriptions applied to product packaging;
  • an investigation by the Food Standards Agency or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in respect of food products;
  • an investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency in relation to any promotional material used to promote the product.

Not only could this result in a financial penalty or payment of damages or compensation, it might also necessitate an expensive product recall or the redesign of marketing materials and packaging.

There are additional certifications and marks which can be displayed on a product to show it has been designated as suitable for vegans. For example, a producer can apply to the Vegan Society for a licence to use their trade mark.

Use of the mark must be authorised by the Society and so it is important not to use the mark without permission as this would constitute trade mark infringement.

Until clear guidance exists, businesses are left to decide for themselves when to apply descriptive labels on vegan products meaning the use of such terms inconsistent. With veganism on the rise this may well change in the future and all businesses should ensure their labelling is clear and not misleading.

Meanwhile, Happy Pie Week, everyone, and enjoy pies – whether vegan or otherwise!