My vegan journey began in January 2018 when I participated in Veganuary. As you can probably tell from the fact that I’m about to celebrate my third veganniversary, I thoroughly enjoyed myself! There were a few hurdles and frustrations in the first few weeks though. The thing that almost broke me was going vegan food shopping.
I had been used to whizzing around my local in ten minutes, but when I went in to shop vegan for the first time I felt like I was in a completely different store. I quickly came to the realisation that I didn’t know my way around as well as I’d thought I did.
That’s where this post comes in. It’s everything I wish I’d known for my first few vegan shops. I hope that it helps you to get your own experience off to a good start!
I’d thoroughly recommend going onto your local supermarket’s online grocery site and building up your first few shopping lists from there.
It will help you to familiarise yourself with what is in stock and will tell you which section it’s located in and what’s near to it.
Checking stock online first will also help you avoid getting to the store with a shopping list of items for a fantastic recipe, only to find that the key ingredient isn’t available in a vegan friendly version.
You can apply filters to narrow down your search too which I find a massive time saver.
Last, but definitely not least, it makes reading ingredient lists and labels much easier. The ingredients and certain keywords like ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ will all be laid out in a standard format. In store you sometimes need a magnifying glass and a degree in espionage to try and uncover the hidden words such as ‘1% milk’ or ‘suitable for vegans’.
If you’re still not sure on whether a product is okay to eat you can do all the research that you need without the added pressure of being on your phone in the middle of Tescos with a heavy basket on your arm.
You don’t have to get as far as checking it out and having it delivered if you don’t want to, you could just screenshot it as a visual shopping list to take in store.
It’s also worth having a relaxed wander around your local supermarket before you do your first shop just to get used to where everything is.
Here are some of the things to look out for:
These aren’t usually stocked with their dairy equivalents (although it’s worth checking!). Instead there’s usually a seperate refrigerated section for plant based or dairy free alternatives. Some supermarkets such as Waitrose and Tesco are really good for highlighting these with ‘vegan/vegetarian’, ‘free from’, ‘plant based’ or ‘dairy free’ banners and badges.
Brands to look out for:
Violife make the best (in my opinion) cheese alternatives.
Alpro make fantastic yoghurts in a variety of flavours and styles, none of which taste of coconut (a pet hate of mine for many vegan alternatives).
Oatly milk is my choice for hot drinks and you can get a barista style one now for frothy lattes and cappucinos. They also do a brilliant creme fraiche alternative that I use in soups and pasta sauces.
Flora’s whole range of spreads is now plant based, or Vitalite is another easy to find vegan butter.
There will also be another aisle in store with the long life non refridgerated milk alternatives. They’re usually near the baking or cereal sections.
For fresh tofu, seek out the refrigerated fresh soups, pasta sauces and ready meals, they’re usually close by! You’ll also find some meat alternatives in the same section such as sandwich fillers, falafels, burgers and sausages. Quorn do some good ham and turkey slice substitutes now, although make sure that they are labelled ‘vegan’ and not just vegetarian, as some of their products contain milk and eggs.
Longer life silken tofu in cartons can usually be found in the Chinese section. You might also find some vegan friendly miso paste there which is great for flavouring broths or vegetables.
Brands to look out for: Tofoo, Cauldron Foods
Before I tell you about these, I’ll offer a piece of advice based upon my own experience: Try and get into the mindset of using meat substitutes as a once in a while treat rather than basing every meal around them.
Just because something is plant based doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Some substitutes are highly processed and calorific. Then there’s the fact that using fake meat can leave you in a place where you’re constantly comparing how good your food is to the ‘real thing’. It could also prevent you from discovering all of the delicious and nutritious vegan recipes out there!
Ingredients like chickpeas, tofu, mushrooms, jackfruit, aubergine, tempeh, or even just a humble cauliflower can all become delicious feature ingredients with a few herbs and spices. Experiment!
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, here are some of the great brands to look out for:
Sausages: Linda McCartney and Heck both do some great breakfast style sausages. Sainsbury’s do ‘shroomdogs’ which are also very popular.
Burgers: My absolute favourite is the frozen No Bull Burger from Iceland. I can’t believe how spot on the texture is. The Beyond Burger found in Iceland comes a close second, but are £5 for 2.
Chicken: My hands down favourite is the What The Cluck soy based chicken style chunks from The Vegetarian Butcher, which I’ve found in both Tesco and Waitrose. It’s got the flavour and texture of thigh meat and works really well in sauces, so think curries, Thai or pastas. Quorn do chicken pieces which don’t quite have the right texture, but work well in things like fajitas.
Other meats: Ooumph! are found in the frozen section of some supermarkets and there are a few different flavours now. They’re really good textured proteins and restaurants like Bella Italia, Frankie & Benny’s and Chicquito have also started featuring them in vegan dishes on their menus.
Vivera do a range of refridgerated items such as schwarma ‘chicken’ and ‘fish’ goujons (which, much like Quorn’s frozen fishless fingers, are dead ringers for the real thing in a sarnie).
Don’t forget to look in the frozen section, there’s a whole host of goodies to be had here! I’ve found everything from cauliflower hash browns to vegan Magnums (oh yeah!), vegetable gyozas from Itsu, nut roasts. Plus there are lots of handy ingredients to make home cooking easier and speedier like chopped garlic and ginger.
You can find some really awesome items such as vegan pesto, nutritional yeast and mayonnaise here, along with healthy snacks. However I find these aisles the most confusing to navigate as they’re stocked with items catering to many different dietary requirements.
‘Free From Dairy’ for example doesn’t automatically mean it doesn’t have egg in it, and gluten free items often contain meat, dairy or eggs. Read the labels carefully to stay on track!
This is the worst aisle for vegan food shopping, I swear! Supermarkets are really hit and miss at whether they choose to label alcohol as vegan or not. If in doubt and it doesn’t say anything on the label check Barnivore.com, or ask Google if all else fails.
Coop get a special mention here for clear labelling and some exceptionally good vegan whites, reds and Prosecco.
Just because an item isn’t specifically labelled vegan doesn’t mean that it isn’t vegan friendly. For example, did you know that Beef and Tomato Pot Noodles are both vegetarian AND vegan suitable?
I’m writing a seperate post on how to read food labels when vegan food shopping. Look out for the second part to become a pro at identifying suitable items all over the store. It also includes a handy list of ‘accidentally vegan’ items you probably already eat and love.
This is purely based upon my own experience and what’s available to me locally here in Peterborough.
Sainsbury’s, Tescos and Marks and Spencers all have extensive in house dedicated vegan ranges as well as stocking lots of leading vegan brands. This makes them all really easy choices for vegan food shopping. Once you know the branding to look out for, you should be able to spot the vegan products easily.
Waitrose has a dedicated Vegan section, plus some of the more luxurious treat items that other supermarkets don’t cater for. Their hair and beauty section contains a whole host of vegan products, for example.
Waitrose is also the place to go for the harder to find ingredients that you might have put on your shopping list after finding a great recipe on Pinterest! Fresh thai holy basil? That’s in their fresh herbs section. Jerusalem artichokes? Tick. Booja Booja ice cream? Oooh yeah!
Morrison’s has a growing plant based range. You have to get used to where the seperate items are stocked though as they’re mixed in with the non vegan produce. It’s all labelled very clearly which helps.
Aldi have begun introducing vegan items but I find it a bit of a faff trying to hunt them down. Their stock changes regularly too, so you can’t always buy the same thing again. Likewise, Iceland can be a bit of a mission at first. It only takes is one visit to get used to where the right freezers are located though.
Don’t forget Holland and Barrett! Get your B12 vitamins here along with a cornucopia of health food cupboard staples and speciality items. I’ve discovered many up and coming vegan brands from browsing in there, often not knowing what I was missing until I found the vegan version. Case in point: vegan marshmallows!
I really hope that this helps you with your first few vegan food shopping trips. Please do let me know how you’re getting on and if you have any questions. You can ask me in the comments below or tweet me here: www.twitter.com/lovedbylaurac
…and if you’d like to know the best way to cook tofu, check out this post!
Lifestyle & vegan food blogger
Peterborough | UK
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