Veganism is big business now – and Yorkshire is leading the boom. MAXINE GORDON reports on the profits to be found in plants

IT'S tempting to think that the watershed moment for the plant-based economy in the UK was when Greggs launched its vegan sausage roll last January.

It became the high street bakery’s fastest-selling new product in six years and led to the company’s share price rising by 7.7 per cent.

But in truth, Greggs is just one of several big brands jumping aboard the vegan bandwagon – all desperate for a share of the plant-based pound.

McDonald's and KFC have also trialled vegan food, while the big supermarkets are all competing with their own ranges. It's not hard now to find vegan ice-cream: Magnum makes its own from pea-protein. Just recently, Yorkshire bakery chain Cooplands announced its bread and rolls will be 100 per cent vegan. And Greggs now has a vegan steak bake too.

The vegan cause was promoted further last year when a United Nations report urged people to eat less meat and dairy to help combat climate change.

And big business and consumers are listening. In 2018, the Vegan Society registered 9,590 new products as vegan – more than double the figure for the previous year.

Bear in mind that vegans account for just one per cent of the population – around 600,000. But the market for vegan products is much, much bigger – an increasing number of us are cutting back on meat and dairy consumption – for health and environmental reasons.

And it's not just plant-based foods and drinks people want. Increasingly, they are looking to buy household and beauty products that are vegan-friendly too.

Is it a trend, or here to stay? That's the question we put to the people powering the vegan revolution in Yorkshire...

The Veganuary founder

York-based Jane Land is the co-founder of Veganuary, the annual campaign that takes place in January to champion a plant-based lifestyle. She believes a shift to veganism can be good news for the economy.

"A plant-based economy would be a thriving economy. Intensively rearing animals creates dangerous diseases and exacerbates antibiotic resistance, and this means a huge price tag, too. And as for the cost of dealing with climate change – of which, farming animals is a key driver – the price is truly eye-watering. Given the astronomical costs associated with meat, milk and eggs, is it time we transitioned to a plant-based economy?"

She says there are new jobs and business opportunities to be had in a economy driven by plant-based products. "New, healthy, sustainable plant foods offer great opportunities for our farmers and for our wider economy. Already, there is incredible innovation underway in the world of plant-based foods."

The vegan food manufacturer

Malton-based food manufacturer The Tofoo Co is reaping the benefit of the sales boom in plant-based foods.

The family business, run by husband and wife team David Knibbs and Lydia Smith, has grown rapidly since its launch four years ago and now produces the best-selling tofu products in the UK, with stockists including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Co-op. It has eight products on the market and this year launched a tofu 'sausage' called Sizzler.

Turnover was forecast at £7.5 million for 2019 – up from £4.8 million in 2018 – forcing the business to expand into bigger premises to increase production. "We have room now to treble our capacity," said David.

He expects to see the market for tofu continue to expand as more of us reduce our meat consumption. "When we started out, we were making three tonnes a week. Now we make 55 tonnes a week."

And he expects the tofu market to keep growing. "We buy £125 million of sushi from supermarkets. If we can convince the UK consumer to eat sushi, then tofu doesn't seem to be as much of a stretch."

David expects the vegan economy to continue its expansion – not because more people are switching to exclusive vegan lifestyles but because more people are cutting back on meat.

"There is a vegan version of everything. The vegan Gregg's sausage roll sold to a wide audience and I think people want to buy products that taste good."

The cafe owner

When sisters Etta and Fern Murrell decided to turn their York cafe True Stories vegan one important person had concerns.

The pair run the business in Lord Mayor's Walk with their father, Tom. "We had to convince him," said Etta. "He said we could try it for six months. We haven't looked back."

True Stories – which has a gable end featuring the city's landmark Bile Beans sign – has 26 covers and is open for brunch, lunch and afternoon tea and cakes, with the occasional supper club too. It also hosts yoga classes.

It is one of the few eateries solely dedicated to vegan food in York – but attracts customers who follow a range of diets.

"We attract a lot of tourists and it is a happy surprise for them to find out how good our food is, and that it is vegan," said Etta.

Menu items include the likes of home-made soups, omelettes (egg-free, of course), meat-free burgers and hummus bowls with salad.

Etta believes the rising increase in vegan lifestyles is here to stay. "It's not a trend. People are becoming more aware about animal welfare, the environment and their own health and wellbeing."