Back in January, I sat down with one of the owners of the Vegg, Harold Bollaci, to talk about his product. The Vegg is a vegan egg replacement product that can be used in cookies, cupcakes, and even for breakfast as scrambled eggs. Later in the interview, we discuss the issue of purity in vegan foods, bias in grocery store product placement, and the importance of being open-minded towards new vegans and curious omnivores.
* Please note, this is a direct transcription from a recorded interview, and is thus written in a vernacular rather than formal style. Sentence structure resembles human speech patterns rather than strict grammatical style.
Eat Bright Living: What can you tell me about the Vegg? What made you start the business?
Harold: So, what can I tell you about our company? I’m not the creator. I purchased the company the Vegg with a few partners about two years ago. We’re obviously all vegan and we saw enormous potential in the product. We’ve all used the product. We met with the owner and he expressed a willingness to sell and we thought, “Gee, why don’t we? Why don’t we try this out?”
Eat Bright Living: Sounds pretty cool.
Harold: And why did I start? Well as you know, there is an incredible untapped market for vegan products in this country and around the world. Not only should people not be eating eggs…you don’t have to be vegan to love our product…so it’s great if people are vegan, but you don’t have to be. It’s a heart health issue. It’s a shelf life issue it’s an economic issue. There are so many reasons why we see value in our egg substitutes.
Eat Bright Living: Can you tell me just a little about your personal story? A little bit about your journey to veganism and why you started and the reasons behind that?
Harold: I’m going to be 44 this week.
Eat Bright Living: Oh wow, well, happy birthday in advance.
Harold: I was born without an esophagus which is kind of rare. So, I’ve always struggled with diet and nutrition, and the ability to digest certain foods and eat certain foods. My doctors put part of my colon in my chest–that’s what makes up my esophagus now. So, for all my life I always had difficulty eating swallowing. A lot of times I would aspirate my food. I still sometimes aspirate my food because it doesn’t get down far enough. I had bleeding ulcers where I lost two-thirds of my blood in my late 20’s. On the advice of doctors, I just started cutting out a lot of foods, and animal products were one of them. I found that the plant-based diet was better for my overall health. I haven’t had any problems since, so I’m pretty happy about it. When you explore the benefits of veganism, first of all to animals and animal cruelty, the earth, in addition to the nutritional and lifestyle benefits that we get…it’s not hard.
Eat Bright Living: That’s another good thing that I like about the Vegg, because, you know, I became vegan eight years ago. When I first started there were maybe two brands in the store and not a lot of variety, and with certain things, you miss that. It’s kind of hard to replace. Before I found these egg replacements, for baking, people would say use applesauce. Or use different things that didn’t really have the same flavor or taste so I felt like I was missing out on a lot still. Then I found brands like yours and that kind of filled in the gap and made it a lot easier, I think.
Harold: I agree. There’s been a lot of progress in the past 10 years. One of the challenges that we face as a company and as a brand is that American palates are so accustomed to horrible processed food. The challenge is getting people to change their palate and recognize that this is a very healthy product and the taste might not be just like a cracked egg, but the cracked egg is bad for you. Yeah, it takes a little while and it takes an open mind. I don’t think it’s hard to do, and I really think it’s about education, and it’s about shelf placement.
Eat Bright Living: Any long-term goals for the Vegg?
Harold: I would like our products to be next to eggs in a grocery store. Yeah, I’d like to make the vegan aisle, but I’d also like people who are looking at eggs to say, “Oh wow, I can try this too and it’s better for me?” You know, but I don’t own grocery stores. We’re in about 50 stores nationwide. They’re mostly small stores and one or two big chains. I love pushing online sales. I love getting orders in, but I do know that probably 80% of all online orders go through Amazon, which is fine if that’s a way to get these products into consumers’ hands. Of course, we like people to come to our store. We offer online specials and free shipping, but you know I’m just as good at selling through Amazon. And of course, I’d rather consumers be buying in a store, but it’s hard to get on store shelves.
Eat Bright Living: I know you answered a lot of questions and to kind of wrap things up, what advice would you give to people who are just starting out becoming vegan? Or people who maybe want to start a vegan business or offer a product to the community?
Harold: My advice is always to be patient, be thoughtful, be inquisitive, and don’t be overly judgmental or critical. Everybody’s ideas and palates are different. Don’t be an extremist. Be accepting of a variety of vegan lifestyles and products. Veganism is a personal and individual journey, so having an open mind and a patient mind and a thoughtful mind is the best way to get there. It’s about us individually. We can all be passionate advocates for the ideology and the lifestyle, but when it comes to ourselves we have to do what’s best for us.
Eat Bright Living: Something that I’ve noticed lately is a lot of the new products for vegans share similarities with more traditional meat and dairy products. I noticed within some groups there’s a lot of suspicion towards it, an attitude like, “Well, why would you want that anyway?” So I think that’s kind of like the judgmental side that you were talking about because people are at different stages of their journey. Some may want something that reminds them of what they used to eat. And some people may be like, “Well, I don’t need that. I don’t need a replacement.” It’s just about meeting people where they are and being open-minded about things.
Harold: I couldn’t agree with you more and I think that’s with everything in life. There’s always somebody who’s going to say that a vegan product isn’t pure enough. Yeah, if I can get someone to give up eggs five days a week and use my product, I’m okay with it. Anything that people are doing personally to make themselves better and healthier is okay.
Visit the Vegg online at www.thevegg.com.