The DC Vegan Drinks team is beyond excited about our October 20 Halloween Bash & Costume Contest. It’s shaping up to be a super fun shindig with some snazzy prize sponsors to boot. One of those sponsors is VeganEssentials, a vegan-owned online store featuring a motherload of enticing vegan products. I had the chance to ask a few questions of VeganEssentials co-founder Ryan Wilson last weekend. Enjoy the read, and get working on that Halloween costume already!!
Emily: Tell us about VeganEssentials. When did you start it and why?
Ryan: VeganEssentials (originally called Veg Essentials when we were a printed catalog mail-order company prior to our online days) started in early 1998 shortly after my wife (and company founder) Courtney Ernster had come down with food poisoning after eating chicken. At the time, she came to the conclusion that anything that could make her so sick was something she needed to consider removing from her diet, so she immediately went vegetarian. A month later, she went vegan, and felt better than ever. During that time, there were so few options out there for obtaining vegan products from a source who had done the research and put a range of all-vegan items in one convenient location, so Courtney decided that there needed to be a better way for vegans to get what they need.
The first incarnation was a printed catalog that contained only about 70 items, and the business was run out of her sister’s basement for the first year. As word spread, Courtney was able to get a small office space and focused on building things up over the next year to expand what Veg Essentials offered. Though, by late 1999, printed catalogs for small businesses were becoming a thing of the past due to the high cost of printing and mailing, and online retail was just starting to really take hold. Courtney and I had been dating for about a year at that time, and I suggested that she move things to an online store to have greater visibility and to keep her costs lower in order to keep expanding her selection.
Some months later in early 2000, she finally had our online store set up, but at that time, I was still an omnivore and didn’t think I’d ever decide to go vegan myself. At that point, Courtney said to me “Why is it you say you love animals so much, but continue to eat them?” I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I told her I’d try to at least go vegetarian for a bit and see how I felt. I gave up meat and eggs the next day, and after some months, I decided that I should finally give up the dairy that I was still eating on occasion – which made me feel even better, and a decade later, I know it was one of the best decisions I ever made! Now we’re the largest online retailer for all-vegan products (if you can consider a 6-person business “large”) with over 2000 different all-vegan products, and we keep expanding our product selection month after month to keep the vegans of the world happy to have so much they can buy at one store while supporting veganism 100%!
Emily: Where is your company based?
Ryan: We are based in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is just about a 20-minute drive from Milwaukee, and we’re just about 90 minutes north of Chicago.
Emily: How do you go about finding new vegan products to sell on your site? Are you looking for certain things?
Ryan: New products ideas come from a range of sources – some are items that just show up out of nowhere as samples from companies who have a new product they’d like us to try, some are suggestions made by our shoppers, others are items we find by attending tradeshows or scouring through hundreds of pages of catalogs each month. We’ve even found things while away on business just browsing through other retail outlets, coming across products that we’ve never seen before but were definitely products we knew we needed to bring in to our store. We’ve always got a list of things we’ve been after, sometimes we find them, some we’ve been after for years, but now that veganism is more accepted and isn’t so “scary” to omnivores as it used to be, there’s always a range of great new products coming out each year for us to keep adding to our store!
Emily: What is the most popular product/category of merch on your site?
Ryan: Our most popular products are always food items and supplements, no question about it. For food, we always find that vegans crave their sweets and treats, with the Go Max Go vegan candy bars being our top-selling product in that area (if you haven’t tried them, they’re incredible!) (Ed. note: I most definitely will be ordering a supply of those candy bars. Specifically the “Jokerz” bar…yum) For supplements, we’ve seen that vegan DHA supplements have always been at the top, with the Nu-Tru Omega-Zen3 DHA being our best selling product for nearly 7 years running!
Emily: Do you personally have a favorite product on the site?
Ryan: It’s so hard to pick a complete favorite, but as of late, it has been the Cocomels vegan caramels we sell. I try not to eat too many sweets, but they’re so addicting, once I open a bag they’re as good as gone within a matter of minutes.
Emily: What are you planning to be for Halloween?
Ryan: I’m still working on that one – we’ve been so busy here this past few weeks, I haven’t had much time to consider what costume to put together, but I’ll be making plans for that before long!
The next DC Vegan Drinks is August 18th at Bread & Brew, we will be having a special guest Matt Frasier, the “No Meat Athlete“. He will be talking to us about being a NO meat athlete. We will have some raffle items to give away as usual and an awesome Vegan menu from Bread & Brew.