Veganism is growing at an exponential rate and is an untapped market that could offer additional opportunities for fish and chip shop owners
Attitudes towards veganism have changed dramatically over the last few years, indicating that consuming a plant-based diet is now winning British hearts and minds in ever greater numbers.
According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has surged 700% in the last two years with 3.5 million people now thought to follow a plant-based diet, while PETA states that 25% of 18-25-year-olds are now vegan or vegetarian. This is a significant market for fish and chip shops to target, but really it’s only the tip of the iceberg as Elena Orde, communications officer at The Vegan Society, explains: “Businesses are opening the potential market up to not only half a million vegans in Britain, but also to a million more vegetarians, the huge number of meat and dairy reducers, the lactose intolerant, the health-conscious and others who simply enjoy vegan food from time to time.”
But offering a vegan menu doesn’t come without its issues, so it’s a decision fish and chip shops need to consider wisely. Firstly, is there a demand? Secondly, can you source suitable products (do you fully understand what a vegan can and can’t eat)? And, finally, can you be sure you are taking the necessary precautions to avoid cross-contamination because while some vegans follow a plant-based diet out of choice, others do so because they are allergic to certain foods, such as fish or dairy.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet contains only plants – such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits – and foods made from plants. Vegans don't eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products, eggs or fish.
When Simpsons opened its second takeaway in Stroud, Gloucestershire, owners James and Bonny Ritchie knew straight away that adding a vegan element would make sense - with the town full of vegan cafes, the demand was certainly there. Adding a number of homemade options to the menu such as tofish and chips, battered pickles, pea fritters and vegan patties, they learned very quickly the right way to do things. Although they were already frying in vegetable oil - a must for any vegan - they weren’t frying in separate pans to the fish. James comments: “We were offering vegan options but our customers were saying “well they’re not vegan as you’re not cooking them separately to the fish.” It was new to us, so we thought that would be OK, but it wasn’t and so we installed a separate fryer.
“Now that people have the confidence that we are doing everything correctly, we have a really good vegan following in Gloucestershire. We’re part of various vegan groups and we have a rapport with that community so we can ask them questions and they may say to us ‘have you tried this?’ or ‘we’d really like to see this on the menu at Simpsons’. We’ve certainly learned it’s a much bigger market than people give it credit for.”
The Vegan Society has launched a 'Vegan on the Go' campaign to improve the availability of vegan options on the high street. Click here for information.
For Dean Boni, who three years ago bought Fish & Chips on Thames Avenue in Swindon, offering a vegan option wasn’t even on the radar until a customer asked if it’s something they would consider. The takeaway now has a vegan night every Sunday with one pan dedicated to items such as veggie sausages, meat free burgers and fishless fingers.
Dean comments: “It never occurred to us to offer a vegan menu, I was aware gluten free fish and chips was a relatively well-known thing, but didn’t think vegan would be that big. However, our sales on a Sunday night have doubled so it’s definitely worth doing.”
The hardest part for Dean has been sourcing the right products at the right price. He comments: “A lot of vegan sausages are just vegan burgers in a different shape, so it’s not very exciting for customers. But we were told vegans really liked Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages, so we found somewhere selling them at a fair price - they are a lot more expensive than our usual pork sausages - and added them to the menu. They are our biggest seller, we do about 40 a night now. I think when customers come to the fish and chip shop, they want the experience of a fish and chip shop and a battered sausage and chips is a chippy favourite whereas, say, something like a bean burger isn’t necessarily.”
A ring around of his suppliers helped Dean pull together the rest of the menu. For example, Middletons was able to advise that the gluten free gravy Dean was already using was suitable for vegans, while Smales stocked a meat free range of products by Dalloon. Dean adds: “Customers certainly appreciate the new menu. They show such gratitude because we are doing this and we’ve got lots of regulars now on vegan night.”
Shakey Shakey Fish Bar in Ramsgate, Kent, has developed such a following for its vegan menu that it holds three vegan days a week and recently catered for a vegan wedding for 185 people.
A spokesperson for the shop said: “If you look at our main menu you can pretty much find 90% of that available to vegans. I wanted vegans to have choices, rather than give them one option they had to have. We have people come in who say they aren’t vegan but they have a fish allergy, so they come in on a vegan day. Even if it’s just chips they fancy or a spring roll, they have that option.”
Shakey Shakey believes much of its success has come down to trust and the fact that the family has run a successful gluten free menu for the past ten years. The spokesperson adds: “Because we’ve never made anyone ill in that time, customers have that trust and confidence that we are doing everything correctly,
“Being vegan it’s not just about lifestyle, it’s about allergens as well so you need to make sure there’s no cross-contamination. So for us, even if the vegan items are all packaged in boxes, we do not keep them in the same fridges and freezers as non-vegan items. We take pride in that and that’s what customers see. If you get that right - and the products of course - the trust that you build up is what will generate the business for you.”
TOP TIPS FOR GOING VEGAN
1. Examine the products you already offer on your menu as some may not be marked as vegan but may be suitable, while others can be easily ‘veganised’ - for example swap animal fat for vegetable oil or fish sauce for soya sauce.
2. Ensure there is no cross contamination by preparing vegan items in separate areas and cooking in a separate fryer to meat and fish products. This includes keeping food in separate fridges and freezers as well as in the hot box.
3. Make sure all members of staff are fully informed about what vegans choose not to eat.
4. Clearly label vegan dishes.
5. Have packaging available for customers to read and don’t be offended if customers ask questions, especially at first.
6. Often foods that are vegan-friendly are gluten-friendly too (and of course vegetarian), so you may be able to cater for more than one dietary requirement at the same time.
7. Spread the word on social media. Vegans compose a very loyal and dedicated customer base and when catered for well, they are very likely to come back and tell other vegans.
8. Consult your customers to see what they’d like to see on the menu and find local vegan groups in your area to bounce ideas off of. A helpful source of advice is The Vegan Society.
9. No one likes paying extra for their food so ensure your vegan option is priced along the same lines as the rest of the menu.