Many of the conversations I had last week, particularly those after the screening of Cowspiracy, indicated that people would like some concrete suggestions on where to find veggie meat alternatives and plant-based dairy substitutes at local supermarkets.
I decided to research our local Martin’s Super Market in Heritage Square to find out what they carry and where they are located in the store.
Note: I am not looking in Whole Foods, which is a specialty supermarket, but rather in a standard supermarket where more people shop.
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The veggie meat and non-dairy milk, butter, yogurt and cheese and markets are new and quickly expanding. It is so new, and in so much flux, we don’t even know exactly what to call this category. Recently Jon Stewart teased Gene Baur, the founder of Farm Sanctuary, for the “meatless meats” appellation.
Some brands that carry vegan meat and dairy substitutes also carry vegetarian versions which include dairy and egg. This makes it essential that the shopper checks for the vegan label and read ingredient lists.
However, for people transitioning from a standard American diet to a plant-based diet, even the vegetarian products with added dairy or egg may be acceptable until they adjust.
So here’s a quick rundown of the products at Martin’s at Heritage Square. Their placement in the store is not always obvious and sometimes products are duplicated in different parts of the store.
Some of the veggie meat and cheese products are held in the refrigerated display at the produce section soon after you enter the store. This section also displays the vegan mayo Vegenaise, and the vegan butter Earth Balance (the palm oil in this blend is more responsibly sourced).
Veggie meats such as Tofurky brand and soyrizo are also held here, as well as some other tofu and tempeh products.
Note that the Go Veggie green label products you’ll find here are not vegan, as they include casein, a dairy milk derivative.
Veggie burgers and “chik’n” patties are found in the freezer section some way around the perimeter of the store (unfortunately having to pass through the actual dead animals section to get there).
The brands carried here include Boca, Morningstar and Quorn. Many of the varieties here are not vegan as they contain egg and milk ingredients. So again, it is important to check the labels and ingredients. For Boca and Morningstar the vegan label is on the package.
Interesting to note that this Martin’s does not carry Gardein, one of the oldest veggie meat brands that is vegan and also has a loyal following among vegans (Target carries many Gardein products).
A standard variety of plant milks (soy, almond, cashew, flax) are held in the refrigerated and shelf-stable packages. There really isn’t much difference between the refrigerated and shelf-stable varieties.
Plant milks originally came in the shelf stable varieties, but marketers found that consumers were more likely to buy if they were displayed in the refrigerated section next to the dairy milk.
Non-dairy yogurts are displayed according to their brand rather than in their own section, and this makes them hard to find. For example, the Stonyfield Farms O’Soy variety is displayed along with dairy versions of Stonyfield Farms yogurts, and the So Delicious brand nondairy yogurts are displayed a section or two further away.
The truly vegan cheeses, Vegan Gourmet and Daiya, are also displayed here along with the dairy cheeses, somewhat beyond the yogurt cases. This section also has Tofutti cheese, which checks out as vegan, but the Smart Beat brand includes casein.
People have asked for a review of vegan cheeses, and which are the “best,” but this is a difficult question to answer at this point. The market is too new and a consensus has not developed with regard to which cheese is good for which application.
There are many smaller brands with regional distribution which also make comparison difficult. Furthermore, the manufacturers are also continuing to tweak their formulas.
Last but not least, the nondairy frozen desserts are in central freezer aisles, and these include soy, rice and coconut milk based products.
The Martin’s at South Bend Avenue and Ironwood Road is similar, but there are other brands there that I did not see at Heritage Square. For instance, I found Silk Soy yogurt and Lightlife meat alternatives there that were not available at the Heritage Square location.
Although some of us take in stride the added complications of shopping vegan, others find it challenging. But clearly, it is possible to shop for a vegan diet at a standard grocery store like Martin’s.
In fact, I was talking to a manager at the store who was herself an ethical vegetarian, and gave her some tips on how she could transition to using vegan products at the store. She recommended that we specifically request Martin’s to carry more vegan meat and dairy substitutes, and also request modified placement to make these products easier to find.
I also spoke with a Martin’s employee who does food demos, so watch out for a meat-and-dairy alternatives sampling event at Martin’s soon!