In what may be the biggest news story of 2015, Richard Branson made a stunning announcement yesterday outside his San Francisco-based Virgin America headquarters. The airline mogul said that on January 1, 2016, a new fleet of Virgin America airplanes will be rolled out in what the renegade entrepreneur calls his “most important innovation to date.” In exactly eight months, Branson will unveil a subsidiary of his wildly successful airline brand. The name of that subsidiary? Vegan America.
The Virgin Group founder, who owns more than 400 companies and has a net worth of $4.9 billion, told reporters how the idea for a vegan airline came to be. While hosting a CEO mastermind weekend at Necker Island (Branson’s private Caribbean retreat), he and pals Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Chinese investor Li Ka-shing went out for a sunset balloon ride. According to Branson, it was during that ride that he finally made the connection between factory farming and environmental destruction. “I’ve long been searching for solutions to combat global warming, an issue which is very close to my heart. When Bill and Al told me how many gallons of water it takes to create a single hamburger, I was flabbergasted. I knew at that moment that not only would I give up meat, but I needed to make a difference through business. Vegan America is the result of that revelation.”
Branson later told The New York Times that investor Ka-shing—who sunk $23 million into vegan food company, Hampton Creek, in 2014—further convinced him that a plant-based diet is the future. “Mr. Li has an exemplary track record of predicting cultural change, which is why he’s the richest man in Asia. As the sun set on that balloon ride around Necker, he looked me in the eye and said ‘Make no mistake. The end of meat is just years away. By 2050, the world will be vegan.’”
So how will Vegan America differ from sister company Virgin America? Branson enthusiastically described some of the key amenities, many of which he personally created:
- >> Sleek pleather seats and plush wool-free blankets
- >> An all-vegan snack selection including Justin’s peanut butter cups, Brad’s Raw kale chips, Earth Balance cheese crackers, Hail Merry macaroons, and Miyoko’s Kitchen artisan cheese
- >> Made-to-order organic cocktails and bottled green juices (Branson likes Naked Juice)
- >> In-flight feature films such as Fork Over Knives, An Inconvenient Truth, and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.
First-class travelers will fly in total vegan luxury, with such benefits as:
- >> Seasonal chef-prepared meals prepared by celebrity vegan chef Tal Ronnen
- >> A Vega smoothie cart for morning flights and a So Delicious ice cream sundae bar for afternoon and evening flights
- >> A Matt & Nat-designed amenity kit complete with LUSH moisturizer, a toothbrush by Preserve, and a pair of knee-high socks emblazoned with the word “vegan”
Furthermore, flight attendants will don Stella McCartney-designed uniforms in Virgin’s signature red. And if you’re a member of the airline’s Elevate frequent flier program, you’ll be able to donate points to such organizations as Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States.
As reporters questioned Branson on the mass marketability of an all-vegan airline, he spoke with great conviction. “I want my legacy to mean something and play a role in the future of our planet. I’m a billionaire several times over—I think I’ve proven myself. I want to make a statement with an all-vegan airline, and have fun while doing it.”
Immediately following the press conference, Branson was whisked away in a Tesla to the San Francisco Bay, where he swam from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz. With a school of dolphins in tow, of course.
VegNews’ co-founder Colleen Holland attended the historic press conference in San Francisco yesterday and spoke to Richard Branson about becoming the official magazine of the Vegan America fleet.