In the run-up to the UK’s first vegan Trade Show VegfestUK Trade at Olympia London on Friday October 20th 2017, author and consultant development vegan chef Tony Bishop-Weston (@bishopweston) looks at why there is no better time than now for opening vegan restaurants and catering for vegans.
Trade and Media professionals can register to attend VegfestUK Trade for free at www.trade.vegfest.co.uk/registration
You’d think with all the restaurants and café’s adding Vegan options like Pizza Express, Zizzi, Pret, PizzaHut, Bella Italia, Ask Italian, Las Iguanas, Yo Sushi!, Wahaca, Wagamama and pubs such as JD Wetherspoon, Beefeater, Harvester, Toby Carvery, Loungers and even Ikea, that there’s now no need for vegan-only restaurants. Wrong. There’s a weird phenomenon that seems to be happening in the UK. We have no scientific proof but it seems the more restaurants that offer vegan menus, the more people seem to be going vegan. It’s a great time to invest in vegan. Heineken have been very supportive of key vegan establishments and their takeover of 1,900 Punch Taverns for £403m is expected to provide a big shake up and reshape the stick in the mud on trade market and pub industry.
Vegan fever has gone viral. Veganism is being rebranded as the new as big business has conceded that the vegans were right all along and they have now spent millions overhauling their public image and bought up vegan companies that own our favourite brands. Meanwhile, new independent vegan businesses are filling the gap and taking up the slack as bigger brands move from independent health food stores and cafes to the Supermarkets and multiple high street chains. The organisers of the Portsmouth Vegan Festival (separate to VegfestUK) have organised another over 20 Vegan fairs around the UK to provide a leg-up for these vegan entrepreneurs. Then there are all the little village hall vegan fairs and the open-air Vegan Sunday markets. The speed of change is mind-boggling. (see full list of vegan festivals in 2017 here)
Take Southampton as an example. There’s a whole new restaurant and leisure complex that’s been added onto the main shopping centre. It’s full of new restaurants offering vegan dishes from Greek staples, Yo Sushi, Spanish and Italian Pizzas to Mexican wraps and Burritos but that hasn’t stopped vegan start-ups founding new vegan businesses. Southampton enjoys the usual smattering of vegan Chinese and Indian offers and even Waterstones the bookshop sells vegan chocolate cake. There’s even already another vegan café called the Art House Café and a very pro-vegan pub. You’d think for an independent vegan café to open now would be foolish. That they’d missed the boat. That the market would be saturated. But No.
When the vegan Café Thrive opened in Southampton they had queues down the street, sold out of food and sold more in the first week than they had forecast for the whole month. The owners are not green newcomers to the catering and hospitality industry. They helped found the 100% vegan wholefood health food store Rice Up Wholefoods a few doors down so are well aware of vegan demand and its potential. Just like Pret a Manger, Zizzis and Pizza Express before them, Thrive discovered that vegan demand is much greater than anyone had imagined and ‘expertly’ predicted.
Southampton City is a University town with over 10,000 students out of a total population of over a quarter of a million people. Students are always a good bet to have better than average leanings towards veganism. No doubt it was predominantly students that prompted a Southampton pub, The Rockstone, to launch a vegan fortnight. But even so. It’s not just young people that are supporting Rice up (the vegan whole food store) and Thrive (the strictly vegan restaurant) and all the Vegan festivals in the New Forest area and neighbouring towns.
The unprecedented exceptional viral growth of veganism is not however restricted to cities and university towns. Even in deepest rural Hampshire 30 minutes away from the nearest multiplex cinema and supermarket superstore, we are seeing signs of the vegan exponential growth phenomena. Lord Montagu’s Estate, Beaulieu is a hunting and shooting heartland, horses, cows, donkeys and swans roam the streets, but even here the tendrils of the vegan trend are obvious.
Mettricks, a coffee shop in Beaulieu offers Oatly Barista Oat Milk as a dairy-free alternative. Fairweathers the village garden centre offers a vegan full monty English breakfast and vegan cakes. The Beaulieu Chocolate Studio offers vegan dark chocolate ice cream. Not far away at Braxton Garden’s Tea Rooms, you can buy a range of delicious vegan cakes and vegan cheese toasties. Standing guard at the entrance to Beaulieu Estate is The Royal Oak pub. This year the pub dropped National Vegetarian Week in favour of their own Vegan Week. Like everyone else, they were amazed at the popularity and a new regular vegan menu has emerged. Little Vegan festivals in the New Forest regularly get well over a thousand visitors, some nearer 2,000 which rivals vegan festivals in London.
25 years ago they said Taigh Na Mara Vegan Guest House in Lochbroom, Ullapool, Scotland, miles from anywhere, would never work. It did, and it won awards, and there was a best-selling cookbook Rainbows and Wellies. 20 years later time is running out and you will soon be too late to join the party. If ever you’ve dreamt of running your own vegan tea rooms, coffee shop, café, pub, hotel, deli, restaurant, inn, B&B, it’s now or never. Someone else is probably already thinking about it.
Get yourself to the VegfestUK vegan Trade show on October 20th, or the vegan Consumer show on October 21st 22nd, both at Olympia London. Wear a hat because your head is liable to explode with all the ideas that will ignite in your brain. VegfestUK London is one unique, truly massive, mind-blowing, tsunami of vegan ideas and products. Last October there were around 13,500 visitors, but that was so last year.
Tony Bishop-Weston Vegan is consultant development chef with Foods for Life Health and Nutrition, author and former business development advisor with The Vegan Society and The Vegetarian Society. @bishopweston
The next VegfestUK event is the UK’s first vegan Trade and Media show VegfestUK Trade on Friday October 20th 2017 at Olympia Central Level 1. Trade and Media professionals are welcome to register to attend the event for FREE at www.trade.vegfest.co.uk/registration
VegfestUK then moves onto its 5th annual vegan Consumer show VegfestUK London on the weekend October 21st 22nd 2017 at Olympia West and Central Level 1 and Olympia Conference Centre. Tickets are available to buy in advance at www.london.vegfest.co.uk/tickets
VegfestUK also have another event at the Brighton Centre on March 24th 25th 2018. The website is now live for stall bookings at www.brighton.vegfest.co.uk, with advance tickets going on sale from January 1st 2018.
VegfestUK is returning to Bristol on May 26th 27th 2018 at Ashton Gate stadium, with website live for stall bookings from late-November 2017.