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‘Follow Your Heart’ And Make Millions - The Story Of The First Vegan Company

‘Follow Your Heart’ And Make Millions - The Story Of The First Vegan Company

With almost 50 years on the market, Follow Your Heart is one of the pioneers of the plant-based movement.

In the conversation with 'Food Dive,' the founder said that he didn't get into the vegan food movement to make money. Back in 1970, Bob Goldberg was running a lunch counter in a natural foods store called “Follow Your Heart” where he met other vegans. In 1970 even being a vegetarian was considered very weird. Soon Bob became a part-owner of the business and decided to start producing vegan food. 

"We really didn't think like that. What we did think is that we very much believed in what we were doing. That it was the right thing to do, that it's the right thing for the planet, the right thing for animals. And it just didn't make sense to us to do anything differently than that. So that was what was motivating us at the time. Not a dream of getting wildly wealthy or any of that kind of thing. It was just right. This was much, much simpler than that. It still is, pretty much," he said. 

Initially, the company was a contractor for Trader Joe’s but in 1995 they started manufacturing their own vegan products including the famous Vegenaise. They worked on making a vegan mayonnaise for the cafe and it was a hit among customers. It was their first product and through the years the recipe hasn’t changed much. Today the company offers 12 varieties of Vegenaise, dairy-free yogurts and dressings, vegan cheeses, gluten-free bread, tortillas, and egg replacements. 

The store and cafe are still operating today, with the same employees who have worked there for all those years. The company's name Follow Your Heart demonstrates ethical honesty and builds trust. The passion and commitment - it is why the employees stay in the company for so long.  

"I don't know how many other companies are so committed, so mission-driven, and have created a culture around that mission that really informs what we do, and why we do it, and how we do it," says the CEO Martin Kruger . 

Today, nearly 50 years later the same beliefs and dedication are the pillars of the vegan movement and the example to follow for the new ethically minded and sustainability-focused businesses. Follow Your Heart’s ethical approach towards the environment, employees and consumers make it one of the first ethical companies in the world. 

For the company itself, it was incredible to see so many consumers shifting towards plant-based food in the last few years. 

'When you've been in business for 50 years, you're bound to be at the right time at some portion of the span of 50 years.' 

Follow Your Heart’s constant innovation has helped the company to become a market leader in some plant-based food categories. Introducing new product lines is a big part of its success. In 2013 the company expanded into cheese. Today the cheeses are among its best sellers. In 2015 the company debuted with first-ever egg replacement made from algal flour and protein, that scramble like the real thing. 

"Follow Your Heart is not, has never been, about the latest trends in food. It's more about wholesome comfort food that people can come back to again and again. It's not outrageously expensive and it's not pretentious", the founder says. 

More people are aware of the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet but Follow Your Heart focuses on the consumers who aren't buying plant-based at all.

"When we see other companies bring out outstanding products, our approach is, 'That's fantastic.' They're doing two things. Number one, they're providing additional choices for consumers, which is always important. ... And I think the second benefit is it pushes the rest of us to do better", says Martin Kruger.

The term vegan was unknown in the 70s when they started making their products but the company is not afraid of calling their products ‘vegan’ and they don’t think it impacts their sale. They rather think it's a matter of time and 'normalizing' the term. 

Are the vegan trends here to stay? 

"It's a tipping point, but it's like the tip of an iceberg," Goldberg said. "I think this is a megatrend, a global megatrend, and I think that it will begin to have the intended impact in terms of a better use of the planet's resources."

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