It’s no secret: The vegan movement is exploding.
In the U.S. alone, there’s been a 600% increase in the number of people identifying as vegan over the last three years.
But who are the biggest vegan celebrities and game changers behind the movement?
Our list might just surprise you. Particularly as some of those mentioned aren’t even vegan.
The core question we considered: Who or what is driving the biggest change in reducing the consumption of animal products globally?
The resulting list is a motley crew of influencers, entrepreneurs, documentary makers, advocacy group leaders, chefs, doctors, and activists.
1. Patrick O. Brown, Founder of Impossible Foods
If you live in the U.S. you can hardly scroll through a food blog or turn the page of a menu without reading about the Impossible Burger. Funded by Bill Gates and Google Ventures, this game-changing food entrepreneur created the “meaty” taste in Impossible burgers by using heme-containing protein from the roots of soy plants.
Impossible Foods aren’t going after the meat substitute market though, they’re going after the meat market, which is why they’re having such a large impact. Sales of plant-based food in the U.S. grew by 8.1% in 2017, topping $3.1 billion according to Nielsen Research.
With the burger already served in over 3000 outlets in the U.S., in 2018 the company launched in Hong Kong with a bang.
Hong Kong, as part of China, represents the second largest meat consuming market in the world after the U.S., making it an enormous target for vegan disruptors. Impossible has been quick to scale in Hong Kong and the potential for success is huge.
Patrick O. Brown is dominating globally, making him our single biggest vegan game changer of 2018.
2. Ethan Brown, Founder of Beyond Meat
Following closely on the heels of Impossible Foods on our list is Ethan Brown from Beyond Meat. While their products are already served in 5000 grocery stores globally, their launch of the world's first plant-based sausage that “looks, sizzles, and satisfies like pork”, is another exciting game changer for 2018.
With investors including Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, and meat company Tyson Foods, Beyond Meat is is set to take a large bite out of the meat substitutes market, generating an estimated US$5.2 billion in revenue by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 8.4%.
3. Terry Tieney, CEO of Daiya Foods
“I’d go vegan if I didn’t have to give up cheese”.
Terry Tierne, the CEO of Daiya, the self-described leading producer of plant-based foods, has made it his mission to change that. With a range of “Cheezs”, pizzas, yoghurts, dressings, sauces and dessert bars, their products are now offered across 25,000 stores in North America.
This year Daiya launched in the United Kingdom, which has seen a 350% increase in the number of people identifying as being vegan over the last decade. The company also announced a move to a new 400,000 square foot facility that will provide it with enough capacity to generate over a $1 billion of revenue.
Now that’s a lot of cheez.
4. Richard Branson
While he’s not vegan (though he has given up beef), in February Richard Branson announced his investment in Memphis Meats, a company that’s determined to create meat by growing it from animal cells in labs, rather than just replicating the taste.
In his statement he wrote: “I believe we will look back and be shocked at what was the accepted way we killed animals en masse for food. I think that in the future clean and plant-based meat will become the norm, and in 30 years it is unlikely animals will need to be killed for food anymore”.
While “clean” (lab-grown) meat won’t technically be vegan, it will be produced without any animals having to suffer, the use of antibiotics and will also have a far lower impact on the environment.
Furthermore, in 2017, Branson’s international airline Virgin Atlantic announced that they are ‘removing food which contributes to deforestation, like beef’.
5. Miguel McKelvey, Founder of WeWork
In an email sent in July, WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey told his 6,000 employees the company will no longer serve meat at employee events or reimburse them for meals that include red meat, poultry and pork.
In his email he wrote:
“New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact — even more than switching to a hybrid car.
As a company, WeWork can save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons (63.1 billion liters) of water, 445.1 million pounds (201.9 million kg) of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.”
With some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally, the startup’s bold action will be felt well beyond their 6000 staff.
6. Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield, Co-Founders of Ben & Jerry’s
After a petition on Change.org with almost 28,000 signatures calling for Ben & Jerry’s to release a non-dairy ice cream, the company officially announced the launch of their first ever vegan certified ice cream in 2016.
As part of Unilever, the company is in a position to lead the way in making non-dairy ice cream a mainstream choice. In 2018 they released several more vegan flavours, making 20% of their ice cream range now vegan.
7. Dr. Michael Greger, Founder of NutritionFacts.com
The godfather of plant-based nutrition, Dr Michael Greger is an American physician, author and professional speaker. He’s most well known for his advocacy for a whole-food plant-based diet via his book “How Not To Die” and his website www.nutritionfacts.com, which currently receives over 2.4m visitors per month.
Greger’s work was referenced several times in the “Why Most People Go Vegan 2016 Survey” and in 2018, Dr. Greger launched “The Daily Dozen Challenge”, which has seen thousands of people make the switch to a plant-based diet.
8. Rich Roll
Vegan advocate, author, ultra-athlete and podcast host, Rich Roll is unstoppable.
His podcast has now had over 30,000,000 downloads and in 2018 his audience has grown a further 25%. He released a revised version of his best-selling book “Finding-Ultra” this year, which is frequently referenced as one of the most influential books promoting veganism.
The fact that he uses his podcast as a platform to promote doctors, athletes and entrepreneurs in the “plant-powered” world, is just another reason why he’s one of the biggest vegan game changers in 2018.
9. David and Stephen Flynn, Founders of Happy Pear
The Irish Flynn twins are making vegan fun again.
Having started in 2004 with a “small veg shop and a big dream”, the brothers have since opened three cafes, written three best-selling cookbooks and amassed a social media following with over a million followers.
For many, the brothers have made veganism more accessible and having recently secured a distribution partnership with Waitrose in the U.K., their line of food products will quite literally become more accessible.
10. Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, Bosh.TV
“Simple recipes. Unbelievable results. All plants.”
With a combined following of almost two million people, London based Henry Firth and Ian Theasby are smashing the stereotype that vegan food is boring. Having released their cookbook this year, their message is spreading well beyond Facebook & YouTube.
11. James Cameron, Executive Producer of The Game Changers
One of the most cited reasons for people becoming vegan are documentaries.
Earthlings focussed on the cruel reality of factory farming. Cowspiracy asked why we were spending all our environmental efforts focussing on oil & gas companies, not the animal agriculture industry.
What the Health and Forks Over Knives examined the health argument, tying in with the World Health Organization's decision in 2017 to categorise processed meats as carcinogenic.
In 2018 The Game Changers was launched. Executive produced by James Cameron and featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Games Changers tells the story of James Wilks, an elite special forces trainer “as he travels the world on a quest for the truth behind the world's most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein, strength and optimal health”.
12. Lucy Watson, Influencer
With over 1.4m followers, Lucy Watson is arguably the greatest vegan influencer on Instagram.
The former Made in Chelsea star launched her first bestselling cookbook, Feed Me Vegan in September 2017 and is set to launch her second book, Feed Me Vegan: For All Occasions, in September this year.
Her Instagram account features a range of vegan products and meals, including cruelty-free cosmetics and clothing.
13. Ingrid Newkirk, Founder & CEO at PETA
Controversial, long-standing and relentless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals needs little introduction, but they continue to be one of the greatest forces driving the vegan movement globally.
With multimillion-dollar revenues and over 389 employees, Newkirks organisation is a force to be reckoned with. Their “I’m Me, Not Meat, See the Individual, Go Vegan” campaign has run continuously since July 2017 in over 40 cities across the U.S.
More recently, the organisation placed a billboard next to the site of a truck crash that killed or injured over 5000 chickens.
Perhaps the most famous of the vegan celebrities, Moby continues to work tirelessly to drive the vegan movement, whether it be to his 200,000+ followers on Instagram, or his vegan restaurant in Los Angeles.
On July 24th, Moby put his US$1.3m New York residence up for sale, with the intention of donating the money to support his animal rights foundation.
15. Josh Tetrick, Founder and CEO at JUST
Egg producer Cal-Maine saw its shares drop 7% in July 2017 for the first time in a decade. CEO Adolphus Baker blamed the egg alternatives market. Leading the way is Josh Tetrick’s business JUST (formerly Hampton Creek), with their eggless mayonnaise and scrambled eggs, made from mung beans.
With over $245 million in funding and over 130 staff, JUST isn’t just about eggs. They also sell dressing and cookie dough.
With Asia’s wealthiest man, Li Ka Shing, as an investor, perhaps it was no surprise that the company chose to launch their Scramble product in Hong Kong this year, as one of their first international markets.
16. Jodi Monelle, Founder and CEO at LIVEKINDLY
Just 18 months ago, Jodi Monelle was working as the executive assistant to the Chief Marketing Officer at social media management platform Hootsuite. Today, her organisation LIVEKINDLY, the vegan and plant-based news platform, reaches some 15 million people a month.
Monelle founded LIVEKINDLY in April 2017 and has since overseen its rapid growth. The company produces thought-provoking content and is often the first to break vegan news. Its enormous reach makes Monelle one of the biggest vegan game changers of 2018.
17. Benedict Cumberbatch
In April this year, while promoting his new film Avengers: Infinity War, actor Benedict Cumberbatch mentioned in three separate interviews that he’s vegan, generating headlines around the world.
While his work might not be directly connected with driving the vegan movement, his announcement gives the vegan celebrities movement another big-name to point to, and will no doubt influence his following.
18. The New Activists: James Aspey, Earthling Ed & Joey Carbstrong
The vegan activism game has changed and in its place are eloquent digital natives, calmly reasoning with the public and then spreading their message across social media.
At the helm are James Aspey (194,000 followers) and Joey Carbstrong (64,000 followers) from Australia and Earthling Ed (115,000 followers) from the U.K.
They spend their time taking part in debates around the world, participating in protests, and even getting involved with direct interventions at factory-farms.
While their style isn’t for everyone, there’s no denying their following and engagement, which puts them firmly on the line as some of the biggest vegan game changers of 2018.
A Huge Shift: From Sacrifice to Gain
The players are diverse and the movement is growing, but perhaps the single biggest change for the vegan movement in 2018 is the way that it’s being understood. As the co-director of Cowspiracy put it, quoted in an article in The Guardian:
“People feel empowered, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. That’s a huge shift. Whereas before, veganism may have been viewed like you were giving up something, now it’s been reframed as what you gain: you gain health, you gain a greater sense of living in bounds with your values, you gain all the environmental benefits.”