customer ordering from a menu

The future of vegan food is in food service

Marketing to the vegan consumer can be tricky. That's because as a vegan myself I know that vegans—just like omnivores—are not created equal.

There are vegans who will eat honey and those who won't touch soy. There are some in various stages of eating raw and others who are gluten free. Just like omnivores who don't like fish or can't stand the taste of milk, not all vegans have the same tastes or the same motivations for their veganism.

Today, the refrain heard over and over for going vegan is health. While I tasted Galaxy Nutritional Foods' new Vegan Shreds (a non-dairy cheese) at Natural Products Expo West 2012, Marketing Director Jamie Schapiro echoed that statement. Galaxy's consumer research into those who use dairy alternatives found that the number one reason someone chooses dairy alternatives is health-related, rather than lifestyle-related.

But animal rights and environmental activism is still alive and well within the vegan community. So when you call food vegan—whether you're certified or not—this is your consumer: the multifaceted vegan who wants to do right by her body, her planet and all living things.

The healthy vegan tipping point

It's officially time to get your vegan product out of retail and into restaurants, because the vegan consumer doesn't just eat at home. For a vegan company looking to increase their healthy footprint, food service is the future.

A few of my top 15 vegan picks from Natural Products Expo West 2012 have done just that. They cater to the overall vegan consumer and their products are successful in vegan and non-vegan food service. A tip: Because UNFI distributes to food service, vegan companies that have an account with UNFI have an advantage when supplying to restaurants, Schapiro told me.

But the snail's pace at which vegan products are adopted by mainstream restaurants frustrates me and countless other vegans who are hungry for more options. Daiya's a standout when it comes to penetrating food service. The company currently sells their non-dairy, non-soy shreds to popular pizza chains such as Mellow Mushroom and Z Pizza. And with Daiya's new sliced cheese (which debuted at Expo West) hitting the market, it's a no brainer that delis (and not just pizza chains) will carry their products.

Could we one day see Daiya's sliced pepperjack in Subway? The thought's not farfetched anymore. In fact, expect to see national, vegan and healthy "fast food" chains popping up across the country, VegNews magazine's Joseph Connelly told me last year. It can't happen fast enough.

That's when we'll know veganism has truly arrived: When vegans start coming back to the drive-thru in droves.

What will it take for mainstream food service to become more vegan-friendly? Tell me in the comments.

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