As I’ve mentioned in the past, David and I love having wine and cheese nights… Or as they’ve come to be known, “nibbly nights.” It’s so easy to put together a meal of roasted chickpeas, pickles, olives, dolmas, and some kind of spread with crackers and/or bread. Dinner is ready with virtually no dishes, and it’s a fun and romantic change of pace. There was just one thing curiously missing from our wine and cheese nights, and it wasn’t the wine.
The problem was that I couldn’t get high quality vegan cheese in our area. Nut-based cheeses are my favorite. I think they have the best flavor and consistency, but living in a small town, I’d either have to make my own or order it. I can and do make my own from scratch, and I highly recommend that. However, on those low-fuss nights, the last thing that I wanted was to soak cashews well in advance. The whole point was that I wanted something easy, and if I didn’t have to pay shipping costs, all the better.
So when I noticed that a grocery store near me was expanding their store and widening their options, the timing seemed right to contact them about carrying a nut-based cheese. I went to the store’s website, clicked to the contact page, and wrote in my preferred store location. In my message, I suggested three different brands of nut-based cheese (and my personal favorites): Miyoko’s Kitchen, Treeline, and Punk Rawk.
The manager got back to me almost immediately. He asked where I’d tried them in the past, and I emailed him with my blog reviews/ pictures. He called Miyoko’s Kitchen and Punk Rawk, but they were both closed for the day. Then he contacted Treeline. Later that afternoon he emailed to let me know that the store was going to get in every single flavor of Treeline cheese! I could hardly believe my luck! I’d hoped for maybe one or two flavors at best, and now I was getting every single one.
A few days later, the manager sent me an email when they arrived. I posted on Facebook about it, and some people chimed in that they didn’t realize how easy it was to put in requests at grocery stores. It’s something that I do pretty regularly, and while my success rate hasn’t been 100%, it probably has been about 80%, which isn’t too shabby! I’ve requested products from Field Roast, Gardein, Upton’s Naturals, Coconut Bliss, and more. Obviously every grocery store has vegan food. (It’s called the produce section.) But sometimes it’s nice to have the convenience, ease, and novelty of a ready-made product.
Plus, I think getting more vegan goods into stores is a win all around. Not only does it mean that those products will be available for the person who requested them, but it also means that people who might not otherwise be introduced to them will have a chance to try them and discover some compassionate alternatives.
Here are my 5 top tips for getting vegan specialty products in your grocery store:
1. At your store, seek out the person in charge of buying.
The number one way that I’ve gotten grocery stores to carry new products is by asking on their website. Most stores have a contact form or email available online with a way to contact the person in charge of purchasing. For example, each specific location of Whole Foods has their own page, and on the Hy-Vee website they will contact the specific manager to the location and department from their online form.
You can also contact the stores through their social media by posting on their Facebook page or tagging them on Twitter or Instagram. However, in my experience I’ve had the best luck by contacting the person in charge of purchasing directly instead of hoping that their social media person will relay the message.
2. Think outside of your natural grocery store.
I often ask for products from my local Co-op, and over the years, they’ve gotten several of them. However, they’re smaller in size than some of the big, mainstream grocery stores. Since mainstream grocery stores have more space and buying power, they’re sometimes more able to take a risk on a niche product, where smaller stores don’t have the room. Plus, in a smaller store, each product needs to be selling well, or else it goes. In a bigger store, there seems to be more room for play.
Finally, when a natural product shows up in a mainstream store, that has the added benefit that people who don’t go to natural grocery stores will see it and perhaps buy it and love it. Most people I know don’t shop at organic, natural grocery stores, but they do shop at places like Target. So if I tell them that they can find vegan specialty products there, they’ll keep an eye out for them. (This isn’t to say that I’ve made requests at Target, but I think they’re a good example of a place where niche products have gone mainstream.) The more compassionate products that are available to people the more they will see them as a real alternative, and the better things are for the animals.
3. If one store says no, ask at another location of the same store.
Each manager and department head gets a voice in what sells at their particular location. So if you don’t get the results you want at one location of a chain, ask at another. I also like to ask at different locations, because I think if I keep asking the same person again and again, they may start to tune me out. By contacting different managers, I’m a new person making a new request.
4. If it’s something you really want, contact the manufacturer of the product and let them know that you’d like to have their product at your local store.
Many manufacturers have a website with forms and emails just for that purpose. If you tell the manufacturer where you live and what you’d like, they’re usually more than happy to contact the manager too and sometimes will offer samples to the manager, so that the manager can see if it would be a good fit for them.
5. If you get the product on your store’s shelves, let other people know the product is there.
Products will fall off the shelf never to be seen again if no one is buying them. Obviously I’m not saying that you need to start a full-on campaign to keep a product in a store, but if you know other people in your area will be equally excited that a vegan product is available, share it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or when you see a fellow vegan in line at the grocery store. I’m always happy when other locals let me know that something is available and where to get it, and so why not give back in kind? Plus, it means that thing that you wanted has a higher likelihood of sticking around for a while.