In the beginning, getting me to make vegan cream cheese was like pulling teeth. I remember one of our regulars, Amy, coming up to me back in the pop-up days at Stock and begging for vegan cream cheese and I would think, “why in the world would anyone want fake cream cheese?” The thought of “foods masquerading as other foods” is strange to me. Tofurky is weird. Turkey bacon is weird. Margarine is weird. Tofu cream cheese is weird. I certainly never tasted one I enjoyed.
With customer requests, I am usually like, “OK fine let’s make it, and if it sucks and doesn’t move we can tell people why we don’t sell it anymore.” (That’s why we don’t make whole wheat bagels: We tried making them TWICE, gave them over a month to stick each time, and we would end up tossing them day after day. Not much of a market for whole wheat bagels, as it turns out.) We came up with a great recipe for vegan “cream cheese” that’s delicious and reminiscent of its dairy counterpart in its tanginess without trying to be exactly like it. (That tanginess? Lactic acid, derived from beets!)
Looking back at 2018, one thing was clear: You guys can’t get enough of our vegan options! I just ran the numbers and the Vegan Dream, our signature vegan sandwich, has grown 2.6x faster than our total sales. According to Google Trends, veganism has grown in popularity in the last 5 years, but certainly not at the pace we’re seeing our vegan sales growth. Needless to say, I’ve gotten over my skepticism and embraced vegan options. (Plus truth be told, I am actually not a huge fan of cream cheese and our cashew spread goes down easier for me.)
See the graph above: The green line is the Vegan Dream and blue is our total sales. Obviously I deleted the axes/numbers because our sales data is proprietary information. But just focus on the incline of the lines relative to each other: the green line has steeper growth vs. the blue.
Maybe this success with vegan options is a product of our approach, which is to celebrate the veggies and make them interesting and layer the flavors, instead of molding them into lesser-than versions of meat products or giving you lettuce & tomato on a bagel and calling that a “sandwich”. (More like SAD-WICH! I crack myself up…)
I think another factor in our success with vegan options is just the awesome vegan community around us. So many of you have found us through Instagram and continue to spread the word about us! I recently received a postcard from Happy Cow celebrating our listing on their online directory of vegan-friendly spots in Providence. One of you must have created our listing on there — thanks for spreading the word!
So this year we want to do more vegan options. It’s working for us. Certainly we are not turning into a vegan bakery! Wildflour does a great job with that, and I don’t think it makes sense for us to go in that direction. But our kitchen staff is becoming more conscious about making recipes vegan-by-default whenever possible. If we can make simple adjustments to recipes to veganize them (e.g. swap butter for oil in a soup) and it has little impact on flavor/texture/structure, we should do it. We now have 1 vegan pastry (a very convincing banana cake if you ask me!), 2 vegan cream cheese options, 2 alt milk options and 1 vegan sandwich, plus our salads and soups are vegan a good chunk of the time.
Tell me: What other vegan products do you wish we had? Do you have a great idea for a vegan sandwich?