Sure, I’ve written about Coconut Bliss before, as a product, but I have yet to write about the controversy! You know…or maybe you don’t because you’re not neck deep in the political jungle of vegan business. Someday I may forget where I was on September 11 (bloody unlikely), but I’ll always remember where I was when I read on Facebook that Coconut Bliss had been sold to a dairy. Why has it taken me this long to bring it up here? Because the same time the news came out, we’d just gotten confirmation that Coconut Bliss was signing on to be a top sponsor at our conference, Vida Vegan Con…and it’s taken until now to iron out all the kinks and make our news public. So I guess disclaimer time: I am in business with Coconut Bliss. (But you know me—I’m going to be 100% honest with you.)
Back to the kinks. Yeah. The hateful words that poured out of people that day were embarrassing. Sometimes vegans are accused of caring about animals more than people, and that day it was a valid opinion. Supposedly compassionate, thinking people were spewing all sorts of insensitive trash. There was a whole lot of “That sucks…guess I’ll have to stop eating it.” There was even some “If that was my company, I’d let it die rather than sell to a dairy.” Really, would you? I get the sadness that an independent vegan company had to sell to a…well, independent nonvegan company, but it could have been worse. Way worse.
In Portland, we’re spoiled. We’ve had Coconut Bliss for a while now. It came from Luna and Larry, down in Eugene, and that made it cool as well as amazingly delicious. When omnivore friends and family came to visit, we made sure they tasted its velvety goodness. Then, at the VegFest before last, they told me they’d just gotten distribution to Whole Foods across the country—I had to call my mom in Chicago!
The reason the company expanded was that they make a great product. The demand for this coconut-based ice cream was so great that they had to keep upsizing until they were faced with the fact that they could not keep up with it themselves. They needed a giant production plant, and there was no way they could build or buy their own. Who owns the equipment to make a whole lot of ice cream? Dairies. Because for a whole lot of years, ice cream has been made pretty exclusively with milk. Luckily, Larry and Luna were able to form a relationship with a family-owned dairy that respected this product and its potential to spread this vegan treat far and wide.
Now Larry and Luna don’t have to work 20-hour days, my mother and her mother are able to enjoy this rather than dairy ice cream in Chicago, and the company didn’t get taken over by venture capitalists or an agromonster. Instead, a company that had the ability to produce dairy ice cream is pumping out a ton of vegan ice cream.
By now, the uproar has pretty much died down, but it was rough there for a minute. I just kept asking myself how this community could be so quick to judge Luna and Larry yet cheer when a certain doughnut chain offers soymilk or a burrito chain briefly offers a fake meat. And just to illustrate how few pure, independent, organic, perfect companies there are, check out this chart. No, really, stop reading and click on the link. No, the world is not a pretty place.
You could also take it as a sign that mainstream companies are seeing the vegan market as a worthwhile one. This means greater distribution and maybe fewer animals killed and exploited. Just sayin’.
As for my willingness to work with them in spite of the potential PR mess, well, my partners and I agreed (see our official statement here), especially after reading Larry’s response to the controversy, that Coconut Bliss wants veganism to thrive—they’re not just trying to exploit the market. We believe they’re doing the best they can, making hard choices to leave the world a little nicer than the way they found it.