The ‘vegan surge’ is playing its part in keeping organic food sales on a growth course, writes Michael Wale
The strength of the vegan movement is helping harden the hand of organic production. That was the message to be heard at Lunch, the leading trade event for food-to-go at London’s Islington Business Centre.
Leading the way was Totnes-based Tideford Organics whose Business Development Manager Anne Marie Mattah who revealed : “ We re-branded as a company from September 1st. We went completely vegan. Our everyday products like the soups we’ve produced since 1996 are now gluten, meat and dairy free. The market led us, the biggest increase in demand last year was veganism. Organics is on the up again, the vegan element has outstripped the organic sales. I think a lot of people will have to choose vegan options for sustainability”.
So Tideford have dropped Farmhouse Chicken from their soup range. Beside producing a vegan labelled sauce and pesto range the company are introducing Tideford Organics Miso, added to their own soups and also marketed in three separate packets for home cooks to add to their stews or home made soups.
Tideford’s Managing Director Lynette Sinclair underlined the importance that the vegan movement is having on the market as a dedicated, ethical and organic producer when she said : “ The move to vegan was the obvious next step”,
The successful combination of organic and vegan is soon to be proved by Rebecca Rayner, who farms 500 acres with her engineer brother near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Rebecca has produced gluten free cake mixes, porridge, and other products for several years, but shortly she is to take delivery of organic oats from nearby pioneerting agro-forestry farmer Stephen Briggs. These will be sold on in small sacks for the retail market. Rebecca explained : “ You need to be organic to sell abroad”.
Another, more surprising, effect the vegan movement is having on the food industry came from the establishment company Walkers, the world’s leading maker of shortbread, who 18 months ago started making a vegan version using rice flour. This new product, which was on show, is made in a dedicated factory in Elgin, and offers a selection of gluten free shortbread.
Vegan demand may be on a roll at present, but organic is definitely on the way back, and there was a feeling at Lunch that organic would be the next step for many producers, who already don’t use any ‘nasties’. But are now willing to go the whole way, and get official accreditation.
Typical of this thought process is Janett Lozano co-founder of the delightfully named Nutmeg and Hive, who launched the company at Lunch last year, before they were even in production such was their confidence in their future. That optimistic attitude has been rewarded with sales of their Super Yoghourt containing cold pressed fruit, no processed sugars, no flavourings and no preservatives. Their yoghourt is hand strained in Greece.
Janett Lozano told me : “ We’re looking to become organic as volume grows”, adding “ We have to go organic because a lot of people appreciate that”.
Steph Simon had no doubt about producing organic vegan energy bars when she set out in business from her Oxford home three years ago. She had been a secondary school sociology teacher who had to give up because she suffered from very bad allergies. She crowd funded her idea raising over £142,000 from over 130 investors on Crowd Cube. Now she is hoping to enter the supermarkets.
Lunch is certainly aptly named for this show, because of all the trades offering their food for this moment of the day, not to mention the amount of tastings offered. Eating Tofu Thai Green Curry shortly after the show opened for the day at 10am might have proved challenging, but it didn’t. That is what Indy Jhalli, national account manager, for the organic company Dragonfly persuaded me to do. Made from Tofu, which the company specialise in, this was one of their new dishes launched at the show. Inevitably it was fit for vegans, as was another innovative dish Moroccan Tagine.
Based in Buckfastleigh, Devon, the company is planning a new factory, and increasing the employment of local people. The company’s annual turnover is currently half a million £’s. Returning to that vegan message Indy Jhalli underlined : “ There are now over 500,000 vegans in the UK. Some years back that figure was 100,000”. Reflecting those figures Dragonfly now plan to get their organic-vegan products, including burgers into the supermarkets.
Pip Organic produce a range of juices, smoothies, and other drinks. They are just about to launch school compliant organic fruit carton drinks as well as producing an organic iced lolly.
In co-charge of the company is Patrick O’ Flaherty, a committee member of the Organic Trade Board, whose views on the organic industry are, therefore, always interesting. He said that there are forecasts that organic sales will reach 7% this year. He said : “ We must deliver a strong message”. After the Brexit vote he felt that over the years Europe had given us a very strong environment to work off. “ Unfortunately here I don’t feel the Government has the same confidence in organic”.
Interestingly he said that there was more organic sold in Costco ( USA) than in the entire UK. He said the Americans were far ahead of us in their taste for organic, and they had a real appetite for it. He felt that the organic message here was not clear enough, with various messages on food in the supermarkets such as the Red Tractor, Leaf, and others. : “ We need one message. In America they have organic or non organic”.
One of the most eye catching organic produce stands was in front of you as you entered Islington’s Business Centre. Hippeas has just launched and features chick pea puffs. Marketing Director Oliver Horner explained that all their chick peas are produced by farmers in Ethiopia, who are looked after by the charity Farm Africa, who then benefit from every packet sold.