Being a vegetarian or vegan is not easy. Restaurant menus often list vegetarian dishes towards the last few pages, and the choices are limited. Vikas Garg, founder of Singapore-based abillionveg, who grew up vegetarian and made the transition to becoming a vegan (that is, giving up eggs and dairy products) found this even tougher.
“When I became a vegan in my late 20s, it was challenging even for me. It was tough to give up cheese, milk, dairy and butter, which is in almost every food product. I had to keep asking questions about the food I eat,” says Vikas.
In the beginning, the journey felt very difficult. But eventually, he saw it as the most inspiring thing he has ever done for himself. This was when he thought about creating a platform to help people like him.
“I wanted to create something that made adopting this lifestyle easier. People don’t even need to be 100% vegan. They could just want to have a more sustainable lifestyle,” he says.
In 2017, Vikas set up abillionveg, an online community that allows people to review and share plant-based menu items, packaged foods and cruelty-free consumer products. The goal is to encourage users to support each other on their journey to eating and living more sustainably.
Today, abillionveg has more than 150,000 members across 122 countries. Other than food, the website and app also cover fashion, cosmetics and other products.
“It’s really encouraging to see that people, whether they are vegetarian, pescatarian (eats fish), are looking to reduce their consumption of meat or have other dietary restrictions. People are more aware of the health hazards of meat, such as the [health impact of] antibiotics, hormones or steroids that are injected into animals,” says Vikas.
“In the more affluent markets, there is also a greater awareness of the environmental toll of our food choices. Lastly, we see people increasingly concerned about the concept of social justice and the true cost of our actions, whether it’s from a human and social perspective, or the plight of animals.”
Building a community
The experience of starting the company has been a meaningful one for Vikas, who left his 15-year career in the finance industry to found this start-up. Driven by his passion for nature and animals, he wanted to make a career based on his values.
“I thought I could be more successful if I build something that allows me to live by my values and principles every day,” he says.
The company went live at a time when alternative meat and sustainability initiatives are gaining popularity among consumers. More investments have been flowing into the alternative protein space and sustainable agriculture in recent years.
“Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been around for a while but consumer demand [for their alternative meat products] have really taken off in the last three years,” says Vikas.
The business opportunities are huge in this area, he adds. “We are building a global ecosystem. We can connect businesses to consumers, and we can connect consumers to each other. We also have a business-to-business element that helps companies identify peers they can do business with in a different region.”
For instance, a plant-based meat company in the US that wants to expand to Singapore can use abillionveg to reach out to businesses in the country that might be interested.
In addition, abillionveg will forward consumer reviews on its platform to businesses and try to help them improve their plant-based menu choices.
The platform currently relies on advertising revenues. Going forward, Vikas hopes to turn abillionveg into the definitive marketplace for sustainable products globally. Towards that end, he is focused on building the community on abillionveg.
“We need to build a strong foundation and use case around helping people find and share useful information,” he says.