Vegan Ventures: Rebecca Gade-Sawicki Of Veggies Abroad On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Flourishing Vegan Brand

Vegan Ventures: Rebecca Gade-Sawicki Of Veggies Abroad On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Flourishing Vegan Brand

Persistence — You’re going to be told no or fail more times than you can count, and you’ve got to be able to brush it off and try again. I’ve had countless moments where I thought nothing was going to come together; there have even been times when I thought I just needed to find a real, stable job. During those moments, you’ve got to (and I did) get up, walk away from your computer, and take a break from all of it. The stress can be suffocating, and there will be times when you think you can’t take anymore, but you’ve got to keep moving forward.

The vegan movement is not just a dietary choice but a conscientious decision influencing numerous sectors, from food and fashion to cosmetics and beyond. As consumers become more aware and ethically driven, the demand for vegan products and services is surging. Yet, building a successful vegan brand entails more than just removing animal products. It requires a deep understanding of market trends, ethical sourcing, sustainable practices, and authentic brand messaging. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Gade-Sawicki.

Rebecca is the founder of the vegan travel company Veggies Abroad. In 2021, she bid her 15-year career goodbye and ventured into the world of ethical business. Initially, the company started as just a blog and then expanded to encompass personalized travel planning services and vegan tours. Her inaugural sold-out tour to Thailand marked the beginning of many more eco-conscious, plant-powered adventures to come.

Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Travel hasn’t always been my career path; it was something that I did for fun, but then the pandemic happened.

Like many people, I took time during the pandemic to re-evaluate my career — I wanted to find a way to align it with my ethics in hopes of making this world a little kinder and greener.

But I struggled to find a job that ticked those boxes.

So, I embarked on a bit of a journey. In 2021, I bid my 15-year career adieu and began freelancing with vegan brands and managing a vegan travel blog. Prior to the pandemic, my husband and I traveled a fair amount, and people were always enamored with what in the world I ate. They wanted to know if I lost weight because I couldn’t find food or if other cities around the globe really understood what vegan meant, and on and on.

Eventually, I realized the travel industry was where I needed to be.

So, I focused on growing the blog to expand my audience and then launched personalized travel planning services with a focus on creating vegan-friendly and sustainable itineraries. Shortly after that, I launched our first vegan tour to Thailand, which sold out and led to the creation of more tours to new destinations.

Building Veggies Abroad has become my form of activism. I have the opportunity to encourage businesses to make more sustainable and cruelty-free choices and help travelers support companies that are making a difference. It is my goal to use travel as a tool for good.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I operate within an industry (travel) that’s well-known for ritzy resorts, private jets, and opulence. In the beginning, this made me really uncomfortable. Ritzy and opulent aren’t words I’d ever use to describe myself (or my business), and I’ve never had the funds (nor would I use the funds if I had them) on a private jet.

But one of the good things about the travel industry is that you can develop your products and services however you’d like without having to really explain or defend yourself to your peers, that is until you go to conferences.

This past summer, I attended a mega travel conference — around 5,000 people that represented everything from ultra-bougie Italian villas to guided adventure treks across the Antarctic tundra descended on Las Vegas. This was my first time attending it, and my colleagues warned me that it was considered travel’s fashion week (the warning was probably to ensure that I left my vegan Birkenstocks at home). One person even told me that her former boss would bring a completely new outfit, from pocket scarves to shoes, for every day — that’s seven completely different outfits!

There were multiple points when I thought, why am I inserting myself into a situation that could be awkward? What if I get laughed out of the room? What if it’s all one big waste of time? What if no one takes me seriously? What if… what if… what if…?

I quickly realized that these are some of the most essential situations I need to insert myself into if I’m serious about making any real change. I realized this was an opportunity to challenge the thought that travelers aren’t conscious about where their dollars are being spent and advocate that vegan options can’t be an afterthought.

As you can imagine, some people had zero interest in chatting with me — after telling one woman from a very fancy brand that I run a vegan travel company that also prioritizes sustainability, she looked at me puzzled, said I think we have veggie options, showed me one photo then said, ok, questions? If not, I will sit here until my next meeting (this was during a speed networking session, so she technically still had four minutes to talk to me).

While that was unfortunate, others were genuinely interested in what I’m doing or excited to share initiatives ranging from fancy plant-based chef pop-up events to hydropower and reforestation projects. I even had some people thank me for what I’m doing, and a few said I was their most interesting conversation (really, the person who was contemplating fleeing 10 minutes ago is the most interesting?).

While challenging at times, I’m grateful for the experience and opportunity to strengthen my voice. It made me realize that some of the most uncomfortable experiences can also be some of the most rewarding, and this is the only way we’re going to truly make lasting change.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence. You’re honestly never going to be fully prepared for the number of times that people are going to tell you no or just not respond. It can beat you down if you let it, but one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that no doesn’t necessarily mean no forever; maybe your timing isn’t great, or maybe their budget is zapped for the year. You need to find out why and then try again. You can’t give up after the first or 100th, no, you have to keep going. From time to time, I work with tourism organizations to promote vegan options within their destinations. It can be really hit or miss with getting them to respond. I always follow up, and one specific tourism org that I was chasing was a little interested but kept dragging things out. I just stayed with them and connected the focus of a plant-based diet with some of their sustainability initiatives, and after about six months, it finally came together.

The ability to listen to understand, not just respond. I can’t count the number of times I have been in a meeting, and the person never actually listened to what I had to say; they just wanted to talk. This is incredibly unproductive, and when it happens to me, all I can think is, how do I get out of this? I never want my clients to feel this way. I want them to feel like I’m totally invested in what they have to share with me, and they have my undivided attention. This is also the only way you’re going to be able to fully understand what they need and want, which is essential to understand to develop services or products.

Get comfortable with discomfort. So much can change overnight — pricing, staffing, algorithms. You have to get comfortable with the fact that nothing ever remains the same forever. I always tell people that running a business feels a little bit like being in a pool of sharks; either you get comfortable with the fact that you’ve got to be nimble and aware of your swimming lane, or you’re going to get eaten. The sharks are always going to be there, but will you?

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes! I am working on finalizing our 2024 lineup of vegan tours. I recently announced a trip to Kenya and Tanzania for July 2024, which I am really excited about. This trip will take passengers from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru National Park, Masai Mara, and Serengeti National Park, as well as visit local villages and artisans. This will all take place during the seasonal Great Migration when massive herds of wildebeest, zebras, and other animals cross the vast savannas of the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

While that’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, one of the things I am equally as excited about is that the group will get the chance to stay at Kenya’s first carbon-neutral and Certified B Corp. camp, Emboo River. This place is incredibly conscious of its footprint, from the solar-powered and silent safari vehicles to decreasing its water consumption by 90%!

I will also be announcing other tours for 2024 soon, and all of them will always include opportunities to highlight the local culture and other businesses that are working to make positive changes in the world.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. To begin, what inspired you to create a vegan venture? How does that relate to your personal life and values?

So, I first became a vegetarian when I was 12 after researching slaughterhouse regulations for a school project (you can guess the kind of impact that left). Many years later, I went fully vegan for health reasons, the environment, and, of course, the animals, but during those two-plus decades, my ethics and my career never intersected, that is, until the pandemic.

The pandemic not only allowed me space to start to reconsider my career, but it also shined a giant spotlight on the role humans play, specifically with animal agriculture, in exacerbating the spread of zoonotic disease, decreasing environmental biodiversity, and contributing to the effects of climate change. According to the National Institute of Health, “Since 1940, an estimated 50% of zoonotic disease emergence has been associated with agriculture.”

At the same time, nearly half of the world’s habitable land is used for animal agriculture, and the number is growing. So, you take the destruction of natural habitats, forcing wildlife closer to humans, and high-density factory farming where thousands of animals are in close confinement; you have a recipe for terror. Scientists have stated that it’s not a matter of if there will be another pandemic; it’s when. WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has even stated that there is the potential for pathogens even deadlier than COVID-19.

Given all of that, I felt like I had to use my skills and experience to do something to try and make a difference. How could I expect other people to care and want to make a difference if I did nothing?

Can you share your insights on the growing demand for vegan products, services, and certifications in today’s market? How has this demand evolved over the years, and what do you attribute this change to?

The market and demand for vegan products is absolutely growing. According to a report from Grandview Research, “the global vegan food market size was valued at USD 16.55 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.7% from 2023 to 2030.”

I think consumer preferences and awareness about the impact of their food choices are contributing to the increase in demand. Health-conscious individuals are embracing vegan products as they seek healthier alternatives to traditional animal-derived foods. Concerns about environmental sustainability have also led to demand, with consumers recognizing the reduced carbon footprint of plant-based diets.

The rise of innovative food technology has further fueled this demand, with companies offering products that closely mimic their animal-derived counterparts. Long gone are the days when you ate something and immediately knew it was vegan. Products are now attracting a whole new audience that is really concerned about taste and texture.

Lastly, products are now more readily available than they were 5 or 10 years ago. Consumers don’t have to go to a specialty shop to find vegan cheese or a veggie burger; these products line the shelves at most major supermarket chains around the globe. Many major retailers have also adopted their own lines of plant-based products, further increasing competition and selection.

In the travel industry, a GlobalData survey revealed that nearly 76% of travelers were influenced by ethical and environmental sourcing. This sentiment is giving rise to an increase in travelers looking to align their ethics with their holiday. Vegan travelers often fear that they will have issues with meal options or encounter language barriers or cultural differences, and many companies, not just vegan ones, are seeing this as an opportunity. I’ve met with countless hotels that are now offering vegan menus; hotel platforms like often include vegetarian and vegan as an option under the breakfast category, and even airlines are working on ways to improve their offerings. This is in addition to the increase of fully vegan hotels, B & Bs, travel agents, tour companies, etc., around the globe.

Building a successful vegan brand is about more than just offering animal-free products. Could you share how your vegan products meet health and wellness standards, particularly in terms of being organic, free from pesticides, and avoiding processed and synthetic ingredients?

So, my products are a little different. You won’t find vegan travel services on a store shelf covered in good-for-you health claims. Selling travel planning services or tours has actually never been about health for me; it’s been about promoting businesses that are working to make a difference and encouraging responsible travel that aligns with people’s ethics.

I don’t care if you’re an organic raw vegan, junk food vegan, or even a veg-curious omnivore; I want to make people aware through my services that where they spend their dollars matters. A report by the World Tourism Organization estimated that just $5 of $100 spent by tourists stays in the local community. This can have devastating effects on the people who call these places home and also impact the environment and wildlife. Responsible travelers prioritize eco-friendly accommodations, respect the natural environment, and engage in activities that do not harm wildlife. They also seek authentic cultural experiences, support local businesses, and are mindful of the economic and social well-being of the places they visit. Responsible travel is not only a way to protect the planet and its diverse cultures but also a means to create more enriching and authentic travel experiences while leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

On the vegan side of things, I love it when I can travel with omnivores, or I have one reach out to me for help with traveling with a vegan friend or family member. This offers me the unique opportunity to plant a vegan seed and make people realize the impact that their food choices have on the world around them.

Authenticity is a crucial element for any brand. How can vegan brands ensure their messaging aligns with their values and resonates with consumers who are looking for ethically driven products and services?

Well, I think the first step in this is that you need to understand your audience — who are you talking to? What problem are you trying to solve? What’s important to them? What’s not important to them?

Once you have an understanding of who you’re trying to reach with your product or service, then you can start thinking about aligning values and being authentic.

When I started Veggies Abroad, I had a small audience, but I treated them like friends and brought them along for the journey. I shared the ups and downs, and many of them who have been around since day one have had the opportunity to see me and the business grow. They’ve had a unique opportunity to see the behind-the-scenes that most businesses don’t show. Because of that, I have had clients come to me for help and say, “I feel like I already know you.” And that feeling translates into trust. Developing trust with your clients or audience is key, and I think when you have that, you know that you’re really being authentic.

Vegan means cruelty-free and no animal-based ingredients, but what other values do you believe are important to the vegan industry? For example, do you prioritize fair trade practices or sustainable packaging, and could you provide examples of how these values are integrated into your brand?

While veganism is inherently rooted in cruelty-free and animal-free principles, it embodies a rich tapestry of values that extend far beyond dietary choices. There are quite a few other values that I think are important and are quite common to find associated with vegan products:

  • Environmental sustainability plays a pivotal role; vegans often prioritize reducing their ecological footprint and supporting practices that protect the planet. Including priorities like reducing waste and favoring zero-waste products and ways of living.
  • Health and wellness priorities, whether it’s to find a meat-based swap or a focus on a more plant-focused, nutritious diet.
  • Social justice issues, such as equitable food access and fair labor practices.
  • Ethical consumerism, animal welfare advocacy, and community support are equally significant, fostering a sense of responsibility and compassion.

The vegan lifestyle is a holistic movement that extends beyond dietary choices and seeks to create a more compassionate world for all living beings.

Within my own business, aside from highlighting cruelty-free and vegan travel opportunities, I also prioritize responsible and sustainable travel practices. While travel can be a great teacher, it can also be incredibly destructive. It’s important for me to encourage travelers to explore and learn but also to make conscious choices to support sustainability, respect local customs, and contribute positively to the destinations visited.

Some things that are common to find on a Veggies Abroad tour are the use of local guides, opportunities to connect with the local community, vegan hotels or hotels that prioritize eco-friendly practices, and ethical activities that do not cause harm to wildlife or the environment (no swimming with dolphins, riding animals, feeding wild animals, etc.).

Could you provide examples of innovative marketing and branding strategies that have been particularly effective in promoting vegan products and services? What sets these strategies apart in the market?

One US-based vegan company that comes to mind is Eat JUST, the maker of the vegan egg product JUST Egg. The brand has utilized the star power of celebs like tennis star Serena Williams and actor Jake Gyllenhaal while also launching partnerships with a variety of major food retailers, making it easily accessible to consumers.

What I think sets the brand apart is its ability to focus on sustainability and weave in current events. During 2022 and 2023, an avian flu outbreak killed millions of chickens and caused the supply of eggs to plummet and the price to increase, giving JUST Egg the opportunity to show consumers why it’s a better choice not only for health, but also for the environment. They launched a “Plants don’t get the flu” campaign by taking out a full-page ad in the Sunday NY Times and also running digital ads outside of supermarkets, bus stops, and at 800 electric vehicle charging stations.

Throughout the campaign, they did an excellent job educating the consumer that their products are more sustainable and “use 83% less land, 93% fewer carbon emissions, and 98% less water” than chicken eggs. In addition to that, they also highlighted the vulnerabilities in our food system, reminding consumers that avian flu is a zoonotic disease (perfect timing as we were in the process of getting back to our normal lives from COVID-19) and doesn’t just have the ability to impact our food supply and the prices, but also human health.

According to recent surveys conducted by IBM with NRF and the Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania, over 50% of consumers value sustainability and are willing to pay more for it. This number increases to 80% for consumers in the 18 to 34 age group.

With that in mind, vegan companies can’t omit marketing strategies that focus on sustainability (or weaving in current affairs that impact their lives) — it will help set them apart while meeting the demands of consumers.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Create A Flourishing Vegan Brand”?

1. Understand your audience — In order to be successful, you have to understand your audience. This means figuring out who they are, what they like, and what they don’t like, but most importantly, you need to clearly connect with and understand the problem that you’re trying to solve for them. If you don’t understand what issues they’re facing and how you can single-handedly fix it for them, you won’t get very far. I think it’s really easy to look at your product or service from just your perspective, but you have to remember you’re not the customer. You’ve got to get in their shoes.

2. Persistence — You’re going to be told no or fail more times than you can count, and you’ve got to be able to brush it off and try again. I’ve had countless moments where I thought nothing was going to come together; there have even been times when I thought I just needed to find a real, stable job. During those moments, you’ve got to (and I did) get up, walk away from your computer, and take a break from all of it. The stress can be suffocating, and there will be times when you think you can’t take anymore, but you’ve got to keep moving forward.

3. Understand “why” you’re doing this — You need to have a clear and deep understanding of your purpose, motivation, or the fundamental reasons behind your product or service. Your “why” can be highly personal and can encompass various aspects of your life, including your career, passions, and values. When you understand your “why,” you have a stronger sense of purpose and can make decisions and set goals that align with your core values and aspirations. For me, my “why” is to cultivate meaningful connections so that together, we can inspire a kinder and more ethical world. To learn more about this concept, I suggest checking out Simon Sinek’s “Why” Ted Talk.

4. Create FOMO — I think this is easily relatable, no matter what you’re selling. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve regretted not buying something or doing something and then thought about it for days later, maybe even talked to friends about it. This helps build buzz and a sense of urgency around your product or service. People tend to desire things more when they believe they might miss out on a valuable opportunity. For me, it works well with tours because it’s for a set date, there are deadlines, and if you miss them, you miss the one-in-a-lifetime experience (major bummer)! But you can also do this by offering exclusive access to a special group of customers, doing limited-time deals or sales, in-person events, and more.

5. Don’t take things personally — This can be hard, especially for a small business or entrepreneur, but you’ve got to separate your personal feelings and self-worth from your professional endeavors. You’re going to face plenty of criticism, rejection, and challenges, and for the most part, none of it will have anything to do with you personally. Instead of reacting emotionally, evaluate feedback, criticism, or setbacks objectively. Consider them as opportunities for improvement rather than personal attacks. It’s important to become resilient in the face of criticism and use it constructively instead of internalizing it as a reflection of your self-worth. This was challenging for me in the beginning — I received criticism over the restaurants I chose to review, the photos that I used, the type of food that I highlighted, and on and on. At first, I didn’t recognize that I could use this feedback constructively and also that I didn’t have to respond to absolutely everything.

Many argue that vegan products tend to be more expensive. How do you strike a balance between ethical sourcing and offering products at a competitive price point?

First, we’ve got to go back to the basics and understand our audience and their wants, needs, dislikes, and the problem that we’re solving. If you’ve created a product that effectively meets their needs, then 9 times out of 10, they will pay for it. If you find that you’re in a situation and being told that it’s too costly, then you haven’t effectively met the needs of your audience and created the case for why their life is better with it. When people feel like something really meets their needs, they will pay for it.

Now, this isn’t to say that you should go out and price your product at a million bucks; you should be cognizant of market rates, but you need to remain true to your brand and what your audience wants.

For me, I won’t sacrifice opportunities for responsible travel within my tours. This could mean ensuring the ethics of an animal experience (like visiting an elephant sanctuary), staying at a vegan or eco-friendly hotel, and planning activities that allow travelers to understand and connect with the culture and community. All of these things are going to cost more than just booking a cheap-o hotel and joining a hundred other travelers to crowd around a must-see sight while putting a significant strain on local resources. I also ensure that I educate my audience on why these things need to be considered and why it’s important and will enrich their experience.

As the vegan movement expands into various sectors, what do you see as the future of vegan ventures? Are there emerging trends or challenges that business leaders in this space should be prepared for?

Being in the vegan industry right now is exciting. I think back even just five years ago, and so much has changed, from new technology to product availability. I still remember the days when finding decent vegan cheese was difficult, but today, there are multiple stand-out brands with stellar products, and I think it’s just going to keep getting better. A few other things that I think we will continue to see more of include:

Cell-based meat — Although cell-based (or cultured meat) products have been sold in Singapore since 2020, two companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, recently received approval to sell in the US in June 2023. The products aren’t widely available in the US yet and have only been offered at select restaurants. This food advancement has the power to change the food system. Not only is it a more ethical choice, but it’s also a more sustainable choice as the thousands of acres of land, gallons of water, etc., aren’t needed to create cell-based meat products like it’s needed to rear cattle or chickens. To be clear, a cell-based product is an animal product; it’s created using cells from an animal and then created in a bioreactor or cultivator. I think we will see more countries, especially those focused on sustainability, approve the sale of these products in 2024.

Plant-based seafood — We have a pretty good diversity of alternative meat products like burgers, chick’n, and sausages, but there hasn’t been near the number of seafood alternatives — I think that’s going to continue to change. The market research firm Allied Market Research found that plant-based seafood generated $42.1 million in 2021 and is predicted to hit $1.4 billion by 2031. While I’ve seen offerings for plant-based fish sticks and tuna, I think we will start to see more product diversity with items like crab, shrimp, and maybe even lobster. This growth comes at an important time as the public is becoming more aware of the effects of the commercial fishing industry on our oceans and its connection to habitat destruction, overfishing, impacts of bycatch, and reduced marine biodiversity.

Focus on sustainability, not just with products but also destinations — More products and restaurants have become more vocal about educating the public on the environmental impacts of their products vs. their animal product competitors. From JUST Egg’s “Plants don’t get the flu” campaign to live counters in restaurants telling customers how many gallons of water, acres of land, and carbon emissions they’ve saved by choosing a vegan product. As the public becomes more and more concerned about the effects of human-induced climate change, I think we will see more companies become even louder about how their product is a more sustainable choice. In addition to businesses, we’re also seeing countries make more of an investment in plant-based technology to help cut emissions. This year, both Denmark and South Korea announced new plans to boost the production of plant-based products; Demark has even said that vegan food must be a “central element in the green transition.” Both countries plan to make more of an investment in technology, chef training, more options in schools, and more. I think we can plan to see other European countries and maybe even our Canadian neighbors make their climate agendas more plant-focused.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would love to see the US government shift its massive subsidies from animal products to plant-based products. Currently, the US provides $38 billion dollars in subsidies to meat and dairy while only providing $17 million (.04%) to fruits and vegetables, and that’s all while telling people that their plates should be dominated by fruits, veggies, and grains. On top of that, a study conducted by Stanford University found that the US government invests in meat and dairy at a rate “800 times greater than alternative proteins.”

While making this shift, the government needs to provide financial support to farmers wanting to make the transition to a plant-focused industry and also encourage the public to make this switch. Former dairy farmers like Elmhurst recognized that there was a change in consumers’ purchasing habits for health and environmental reasons. They left the dairy industry and started creating plant-based milk in 2016. How many other farmers are witnessing this shift and wishing that they had the funds to change, too?

It’s not impossible; we’re seeing other governments start to make this shift. This year, Denmark announced that it will invest one billion Danish Kroner to support the plant-based sector, with the creation of a new fund for plant-based foods that will include bonuses to farmers growing crops for human consumption.

Subsidizing plant-based options and rewarding the public for choosing them over animal products can yield a multitude of benefits. First and foremost, it encourages healthier dietary choices, reducing the prevalence of diet-related health issues such as heart disease and obesity. Additionally, by reducing the consumption of animal products it can have a positive impact on the environment by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water resources, and curbing deforestation.

Placing more of a focus on plant-based options also promotes food security, as plant-based agriculture is often more resource-efficient and can help ensure a stable food supply for a growing global population. Incentivizing plant-based choices not only improves public health but also supports environmental sustainability and animal welfare, making it a win-win for individuals, society, and the planet.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Please visit

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at .

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