As Asda commits to being the first UK supermarket to dedicate an aisle to vegan products, Julia Bryce takes a look at some of the Scottish independent vegan food producers making their mark on shelves.
There is no denying vegan and plant-based food and drink consumption is on the rise, with all of the major supermarkets now stocking a range of products for consumers to try out.
But Asda is taking its stance on vegan food one step further by dedicating aisles specifically for all of its vegan products so they can be found in one place – in turn, making life much easier for shoppers looking for meat alternatives and plant-based products.
This move makes it the first UK retailer to launch a vegan-only section where all of the products will be stocked together. It will see 359 of its stores line the shelves of the specific dedicated area with more than a hundred products.
While Waitrose and Iceland have already launched chilled and frozen aisles and many of the other leading supermarkets have their own vegan selections, it is the small, independent businesses who are making changes locally that are helping more and more consumers, too, understand veganism.
According to The Vegan Society the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019.
In 2019 there were 600,000 vegans, or 1.16% of the population in comparison to 150,000 (0.25%) in 2014, and vegans and vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025, with flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers.
With this move to eating more veggie and vegan food, its no surprise food and drink businesses have popped up across the country over the years to accommodate to this growing population.
Left Coast Culture
One business making waves in the Highlands is Ella Clarke who lives in Inverness. Basing her commercial kitchen for her vegan cheese brand Left Coast Culture on the Black Isle, Ella has spent the past year and a half building her business to be one of the most independent vegan cheese brands across Scotland.
Originating from the west coast of Canada, Ella’s adoration for cheese was something she struggled to give up when going vegan. So, in order to beat her hunger pangs, she decided to create her own vegan alternative to make the transition that little bit easier.
She said: “The first incarnation of the business was started at a farmers’ markets in June/July 2018. That was under the name Left Coast Kitchen and I was doing plant-based ready meals. By November I had brought some cheese along which I’ve been making at home for years. People loved the samples and by the next weekend I had a queue of people waiting to get it. By January 2019 I decided to focus on the cheese 100% and Left Coast Culture was born.
“I’ve been vegan for almost 10 years and was veggie for 10 years prior. For the longest time I couldn’t give up cheese – I’m from the west coast of Canada where you eat wild caught salmon and I just wasn’t’ ready to give up fish and dairy. For health reasons I tried giving up dairy and so many things went away and my health improved.
“I’ve always been a cheese lover and it was the hardest thing for me to give up. In order for people to go vegan there needs to be viable options for people and cheese is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. In my opinion there wasn’t a good tasting meltable cheese on the market so I felt there was a gap there. It’s really tasty; you can put it on crackers, on toasted bread, on a pizza, in a toastie. I didn’t set out to do this, but it just makes sense.
“Making something like cheese accessible as it is an everyday thing for some people, was also important to me. I want to make things people can enjoy without the side effects of the traditional stuff.”
Building her empire on her own, Ella initially started out with a whole range of cheeses, however, has scaled back and refined her offering since become a food manufacturer.
She added: “Right now I have four. I think I’ve went a bit backwards. When I started the farmers’ markets I had cashew cream cheeses, cheese sauce, seven different block cheeses and so on. I love experimenting and the feedback I got from people.
“Now as a food manufacturer I’ve really had to narrow it down and make sure my quality is up to par. So there’s now four that I retail. I also make a cheddar sauce locally, but I don’t ship it. There’s three semi-firm and one semi-soft. There’s Highland Havarti, Murieta Muenster which is creamy with a little bit of a tang, Nozza Mozza is probably the biggest seller -it acts like a traditional mozzarella and melts really well under the grill – and then there’s brie-inspired one called To Brie Or Not To Brie.
“It is primarily in shops and available across nine or 10 different retailers across the UK. For those that don’t have a stockist near them we’re also on The Vegan Kind Supermarket which is the largest online vegan supermarket in the UK.”
The Vegan Bay Baker
In Aberdeenshire, Steve Buchan who runs the Vegan Bay Baker has seen huge success with his baking business.
Offering everything form savoury pies to bread, to tasty treats including biscuits and cakes, not to mention pastries and scones, Steve plans on opening Scotland’s first craft vegan bakery in Newburgh to keep up with demand.
With more than 10 years experience as a baker under his belt, it was his partner Zoe who inspired him to launch Vegan Bay Baker after continuously returning to work with baked goods she was unable to eat as a vegan.
He said: “I ate meat up until around three or four years ago when I went vegetarian from living with my partner Zoe who is vegan. It was easier that way and really got me thinking more about it. I turned vegan not long after starting my business. It was a mix of living with someone who is a vegan and also speaking to the customers and some of the points they made. When you’re making vegan food all the time it makes sense to transition into that lifestyle.
“Zoe did Veganuary a few years ago and turned vegan off the back of it. When I worked at a baker I used to take home baked goods and she wouldn’t eat it so I started making stuff for her. My friends and family were saying it was great so I thought I’d give it a go and well.. here we are.”
Experimenting with new products at the requests of his loyal customers, Steve already lists 60 different products on his website having started the business with just 14 recipes.
“To start off with I had a booklet and made originally around 14 recipes initially. That was like three different types of bread, yum yums and that sort of thing. The growth in demand has just been mental. We get people messaging every week asking us to try new things out and when I get spare time, I do experiment and try new things,” said Steve.
“In the past few weeks I’ve introduced the new stuff I’ve been working on like macaroni pies and Biscoff doughnuts. There’s a lot of people that want more stuff, but I do my best.
“Well over half of our customers aren’t vegan. There’s quite a lot with intolerances, but many of them aren’t even vegan and just enjoy the bakes. When you do speak to them some aren’t interested in the vegan side of things and are more concerned about the taste, while others really are. I have been speaking with a vegan charity about popping in leaflets with our deliveries in the near future, too.”
Making his products with dairy alternatives, the businessman says it is easier than ever to get your hands on products thanks to supermarkets and stores increasing their vegan selections.
He added: “It is easy to get your hands on alternatives now. Places like Tesco and Asda have their own free-from sections. Oat milk isn’t as good as soy milk as it can be quite watery sometimes, buy soy milk it more similar to what your dairy product would be so is great for a lot of baking.
“Funnily enough my granda was a diary farmer so there’s farming in my family. There’s a lot of emphasis on climate change and that sort of thing around it now, and the positive effects being vegan can have on the planet. I do think it is good and positive. I’m not an activist and everyone has a choice on what they want to do, but I would recommend giving it a go and seeing how it goes.”
Plant-based caterer Roots Catering in Aberdeen is also on a mission to bring more vegan food and products to the homes of north-east residents and those who live further afield.
Establishing his business last year, Nick Coetzer opened his vegan junk food bright green food truck at Aberdeen Beach in May 2019 which has experienced roaring success. He also runs a food residency at 99 Bar & Kitchen where he offers takeaway – a service which too proved hugely popular throughout lockdown.
Now in the process of launching his own online plant-based butchery called Roots Butchery, Nick will sell a range of his popular ingredients he uses in the burger including his cajun panko chickn’ fillet, BBQ pulled ‘pork’, fajita chickn’ strips and his in demand seitan bacn’.
Anticipating to open his own new eatery and plant-based butchery in Aberdeen Market before it closed down, Nick is, for the moment, focusing online.
According to Mintel analysts, the proportion of Britons who have eaten food containing meat substitutes has risen from 50% in 2017 to 65% in 2019, with sales of meat-free foods soaring by 40% to an estimated £816 million in 2019.
The proportion of meat-eaters who have taken steps to reduce their meat intake has risen from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019, too.
He said: “It was devastating not being able to open. We went into lockdown thinking we’d be opening up the space after it, and we haven’t. We were going to be launching a market and plant-based butchery alongside the space, too,” said Nick.
“I haven’t got a new venue lined up yet but the whole shift is now looking to online. I’m focusing on trying to launch the Roots Butchery element of the business. We’re looking to offer our plant-based products across the north-east, further across Scotland and maybe even London which is really exciting.”
Bad Bal Boocha
But it’s not just vegan food products that are seeing a rise in popularity, drinks including Kombucha which is great for gut health are also in high demand.
Making around 300 bottles per week, Heather Blair, owner of Bad Gal Boocha in Ladybank, Fife has worked hard over the past year to bring a eco-friendly drink to customers, showing that sustainability is at the heart of her business.
Offering flavours including plain, ginger, lemon, rosemary, coffee, apple blossom and introducing spiced apple this autumn, there’s plenty for vegans and non vegans to try out.
She said: “There was a lot of kombucha on the market but there wasn’t anything really that was naturally processed, most of it was force carbonated and wasn’t really kombucha but was getting sold as it.
“I do everything by hand – the only energy we use is boiling the water to make the tea. There’s only a really small energy usage for it to be made. In terms of packaging, I’m trying to not care about aesthetics as such. If we didn’t have the pandemic I wouldn’t have gone online as there’s so much extra packaging for posting stuff. I prefer selling at markets where you just hand it over. The labels have always been something that has been a nightmare for me – the paper ones still have to have glue with plastic in it to stick them on, so we’re going to change them to tags which will be attached with hemp string. Deliveries-wise I try and do most myself.
“I operate from my home. We were meant to be getting premises this year but Covid-19 has put that on hold. It’s working fine from home and everything here is powered by renewable energy. If we were to move I’d like it to be somewhere off-grid.”
Other Scottish vegan food producers to look out for…
Makers of 100% certified organic vegan chocolate and nut butters, the business supports organic farming and is passionate about zero waste and being plastic free.
Using nuts, roots, flowers, fruits, essential oils and tree saps to create their products, they are also made in a gluten-free factory which makes them accessible for a whole range of people.
Bute Island Foods
Home of the popular Sheese, Bute Island Foods supply a range of UK Supermarkets and global retailers with their variety of dairy free products which are all 100% vegan.
Mallownuts – Prissy Queen of Desserts
Based in the Highlands, Prissy Queen of Desserts is the master of vegan mallow and is also a vegan chocolatier.
Individually handmade in small batches, there is a whole range of products to enjoy including mallownuts, teafakes, tractor tyres and trays and slabs of goodies, too.
Face Plant Foods
FacePlant Foods is a pop-up, portable, plant-based kitchen based in Glasgow which started out in 2017 as one of Scotland’s first plant-based street food vendors.
The business has diversified and now offers a range of items such as vegan meats and cheese for wholesale which a range of businesses across Scotland now stock and can also be found online.
For more on vegan news and features…