A Canadian vegan fast food chain is set to open 230 outlets by the end of 2020 in Canada, the US, and France.
Copper Branch, which has more than 30 eateries in Canada, will open its first US location will be 195 Bleecker Street, in the SOHO/Greenwich Village area of Lower Manhattan on February 1.
The chain, which currently has nearly 40 restaurants worldwide, serves all-day breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a menu that includes power bowls, soups, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, sides, desserts, and smoothies.
Vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians
In a statement sent to Plant Based News, Copper Branch CEO Rio Infantino said he believes the brand attracts a mix of consumers, including vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians.
He added: “We estimate that the vast majority of our customers simply want to eat real food that tastes great for a change! That is why serving great tasting, chef-inspired power foods is the key to our success. That is especially true in an area filled with top-tier eateries like NYC.
“New York City was a clear choice for our first U.S. location as it provides great visibility for the brand and is one of the world’s most recognized active and forward-thinking cities. Like our brand ethos, NYC epitomizes strong roots while simultaneously being dynamic and embracing the future.”
When you’re making your own food, it really doesn’t cost much to be a vegan. Unless you’re doing your weekly shopping in Planet Organic for maple glazed tempeh and Raw Health crackers, you can knock up a three-course meal for a fiver very easily.
So why then do restaurants insist on charging the same price for vegan dishes as they do for meat ones? Surely a cauliflower ‘steak’ can’t cost the same as an actual piece of beef to produce?
Vegan restaurants don’t tend to give grub away either (unless you’ve gone to a veggie curry house or Ethiopian restaurant which generally are amazing value).
Who wants to pay £14 for a bit of cauliflower?
Expensive vegan dishes
The pub chain Young’s has been slammed for charging £14 for its cauli steaks – the same price as its Aberdeen Angus steak.
Bearing in mind that an entire cauliflower costs around £1, that sounds ludicrous.
Restaurants tend to squeeze 70 percent gross profit on ingredient costs to cover labour, rent etc, which leaves them with around 10 percent actual profit.
But Twitter was having none of that over the cauliflower, with many accusing the chain of trying to cash in on Veganuary. After Young’s tried to defend the ‘premium dish’ pricing, it pulled the product altogether from their menu.
But is it actually reasonable to demand that vegetable-based dishes be sold super-cheaply – especially if we want it to be taken seriously as a gourmet option?
Labour comes at a cost
Chef Chantelle Nicholson told thei paper that while she doesn’t charge the same for meat and vegan dishes, the pricing isn’t that dramatically different.
Her steaks are sourced from a butcher before being treated inhouse – brined, marinated, grilled carved and served with a peppercorn sauce. The aubergine dish her restaurant serves up requires an altogether much more lengthy preparation.
She says that each aubergine is pierced, vacuum packed in stock before being steamed, chilled and pressed. It’s then carved, pan-fried and caramelized and is served with a sesame, ginger, tamari and tofu sauce before being scattered with Minestra Nera (a cruciferous bit of greenery).
The steak is served at £23, while the aubergine is £18. It’s cheaper but not that much cheaper.
The cost of business
“My fixed overheads are the same for each: rent, rates, power, water, gas, waste collection, music licence, operating an EPOS system, credit card charges – the list goes on,” she wrote.
“The cost of the main elements – a hanger steak versus an aubergine – is where the first difference lies: the aubergine portion itself is 25 percent of the cost of the steak.
“But the ‘labor’ (for want of a better word) cost is probably flipped. So, why is the cost not the same? The answer is the age-old formula of supply and demand. If the demand at that price point is not there, it won’t sell. And restaurants need to sell food to remain in business.”
In other words, not enough of us are prepared to spend on veggies to make it worth many restaurants’ while to charge the same.
Paying for quality
You’ve got to be willing to pay for quality
Many of us would bulk at the idea of paying even £18 for a vegan dish, let alone more. But perhaps higher prices are an indication that vegan food is being taken more seriously. Gone are the days when the only vegan options were a side salad and a plate of chips. Now, most respectable establishments have a proper vegan option which rates as highly as the meat, fish or vegetarian dishes.
If vegan options were priced noticeably cheaper, people might question the quality – which is exactly what we don’t want. Veganism has to been seen as a viable culinary option and not just an alternative. In an ideal world, omnivores would be tempted to choose a vegan dish simply because it sounded more delicious than the meaty one – that’s how you get more people switching for good.
It’s fair to complain about overpriced vegan grub when it’s substandard and boring (as one imagines a boring slice of cauliflower may well be!), but in more salubrious establishments, comparable prices might not be such a negative thing after all.
But when it came to cities, Bristol came out top, followed by Portland, Edinburgh, Vancouver, and Seattle.
A Chef’s Pencil spokesperson said: “Bristol’s concentration of vegan-related searches on Google surpassed every other city in the world.
“While this may come as a surprise to many, the locals know all to well that their city has turned into a vegan Mecca.
“There are lots of vegan restaurants, cafes, vegan hair and beauty salons and even an active Bristol vegan community.”
And Bristol is the world’s most vegan city
It’s home to Viva!, the animal rights action group, and three out of four of its MPs are veggie or vegan.
There’s a whole website dedicated to vegan businesses in Bristol, which lists cafes, restaurants, takeaways, health food shops etc in Bristol and Bath.
As for the UK in general, we now boast six of the world’s top 20 cities for veganism (compared to Australia’s three).
The Chef’s Pencil cites Veganuary as being the real driving force behind so many people ditching animal products for good.
We’re followed by New Zealand (the surge in interest apparently has meant that vegan product suppliers are struggling to keep up with demand), Sweden (one in five Swedes under 30 identifies as veggie or vegan), and Canada.
Israel, the USA, Ireland, Austria and Germany made up the rest of the top 10.
Italian-style restaurant chain Zizzi has added a new dessert to its vegan offering.
The Vegan Caramelized Biscuit Cheesecake features a cinnamon spiced biscuit base and crunchy honeycomb topping (which does not contain honey). It joins the chain’s orginal plant-based pudding – the Sticky Chocolate and Praline Torte.
The new dessert follows Zizzi’s recent major launch – the Quattro No-Maggio – which is the high street’s first vegan four cheese pizza, topped with Mozzarisella – in original, smoked, cheddar and blue varieties. The pizza is available on a standard or gluten-free base.
“Over the past year we’ve seen vegan dishes become more popular than ever and we’re anticipating that this January will be the biggest Veganuary yet,” Kathryn Turner, Director of Food Development at Zizzi, said in a statement sent to Plant Based News.
“Our vegan customers tell us it’s important that they have a wide choice and are not just ‘stuck’ with one option from the menu.
“We hope they’ll love our first four vegan cheese pizza and hope it will help first-time vegans get their cheese fix this month. We can’t wait to hear what our customers think.”
The latest brand to jump on the environmental bandwagon is Aldi, which has started selling patties made from beef and beans as ‘flexitarian’.
Bizarrely, when a vegan pointed out how nuts that marketing move was, she was slammed down.
Laura Paterson, from Nottingham, shared a pic of the burgers to the Aldi UK Facebook group saying: “Flexitarian is not a thing. You either eat meat or you don’t. Don’t use Flexitarian as a poxy bit of advertising to flog your products.”
Of course, Laura has a point; a burger is a burger. It’s still involved the rearing and killing of a cow.
But the outcry at her comments I think are actually really heartening.
Flexitarianism is a thing– call it reducatarian if you don’t like the term
Loads of people who were upset by her point said that they were flexitarians who were trying to reduce their consumption of meat.
So clearly, it is a thing – and anything that gets people thinking about what they’re eating and the impact it has on their health and the environment can only be a positive thing.
People don’t like being forced into changing habits – especially not something as emotive as food, so it’d be unrealistic to tell everyone to go cold turkey and become a vegan overnight. But many of us were Flexitarians (even if we didn’t use the term) on our paths to becoming fully vegan in the first place.
Supermarkets are having to listen to a growing voice of concern
While it’s questionable whether many would genuinely choose to buy a chunk of meat marketed as Flexitarian over a standard steak is questionable, it does suggest that retailers are having to work out how to keep up with the growing interest in meat-free or meat-reducing lifestyles.
A year ago, the outcry would have been that a supermarket was ‘pandering’ to alternative cultures. Now, the upset is that someone has dissed the efforts of a significant group of people trying to live more environmentally-friendly lives.
Being annoyed with Aldi is totally understandable. It’ll do anything for a profit and by adding fresh marketing to a product it’s had since day dot, it thinks it’ll seem ultra-woke.
But actually, we need chains like this to worry about their profits. The very fact that they think there’s money to be made by making these changes tells us that we’re slowly winning the battle to change minds and lifestyles. They might be cashing in now because it’s Veganuary and there’s a hyper awareness about diets in January but if Aldi is still flogging ‘flexitarian’ products come June, that shows that it’s not just a fad – people really do want to subscribe to a less damaging way of life.
It found that we tend to take almost five days off a year and are three times more likely to visit our GPS than meat eaters.
But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean what many critics have taken as proof that plants are nutrient deficient.
The research is miniscule
Firstly, this was a survey of 1,000 people by throat lozenge kings, Fisherman’s Friend.
Already, that should be ringing alarm bells. If one per cent of the UK population is vegan, that this group is likely to have included less than 10 vegans in the count – a number too small to count for anything concrete.
Also, veganism is a hot topic now and stories like this are guaranteed to whip up a media frenzy about health and sickness…which a traditional (and possibly waning) cold brand might benefit from.
Even if the stats do stack up, they doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more sickly
For a start, many of us who are plant-based are so (at least in part) because we’re health conscious. We know that eating less meat and more fruit and veg is the key to healthy living – and a recent Lancet report confirmed that fact.
I took to veganism initially because I thought it to be the healthiest option – super high in fiber and phytonutrients and low in saturated fats. As I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I’ve become an eco-warrior and animal rights advocate…but health still plays a massive part in my passion for plant-based living.
As such, I listen to my body far more now than I did back in the day when I’d follow a night on the sambuca with a bacon sarnie.
I definitely take more sick days now but that’s because I don’t believe in flogging my body when it’s run down. I spend so much time thinking about the best ways to nourish it that it wouldn’t make sense to power through a cold if I could just take a bed day. After all, they do say a stitch in time saves nine. Five days a year off sick is literally nothing.
Perhaps we have bigger fish to fry than worry about presenteeism
In my case, I’m also less concerned about keeping bosses happy these days.
I don’t care enough to be concerned with presenteeism when there are bigger fish to fry.
When your life revolves around what I call ‘chronic activism’ – low level lifestyle habits to improve the world (like eating plant-based, worrying that Sally from HR or your editor is going to be mad that you saved the rest of the office from having cold seems rather insignificant.
There’s also an element of privilege to consider
Of course all of this comes with massive privilege.
Loads of people can’t afford to take any sick days because of freelance gigs and zero hour contracts, and maybe there is something in that a lot of vegans belong to a certain demographic (at least in London) which has enough disposable income or support to enable us to stay off work when we choose.
The study also found that younger people were more likely to take sick days than older ones and we know that the meteoric rise in veganism has centered around millennials who have a totally different attitude to career and wellbeing than our parents or grandparents.
Even the British Heart Foundation has rubbished the study.
The charity has slammed tabloid coverage of the study (the Metro warned ‘perhaps carrots should carry cigarette-style health warnings, as it’s emerged that vegans actually take more days off sick than everybody else’), calling it ‘unhelpful’ in the fight to get more people to eat better.
“This coverage had the unhelpful effect of suggesting that a diet containing more fruit and vegetables is bad for your health, despite countless studies demonstrating the opposite,” it said.
It cites a 2016 a study by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, monitoring more than 130,000 people for thirty years, which found that every three percent increase in calories from plant protein reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 12 percent.
And the BHF also funded that recent Lancet study which concluded that ‘for people in high and middle-income countries, low meat flexitarian or vegan diets which met healthy eating guidelines had positive benefits for health for most people as well as on the environment.
“They calculated that these types of diets could lower early deaths from heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and cancer by around 19-22 per cent.”
According to Langerman, Portman simply asked: “Is it possible if we could just not use animal products for my costumes?” Having already worked with vegan actor Rooney Mara, the designer was fully onboard.
Langerman also revealed that after crafting animal-free costumes for Mara and Portman, she may consider changing the way she works in the future.
“It actually makes me wonder if I could do this with more, if not every project, because it is a senseless use of an animal, when you can get a cinematic, stunning movie without that,” she told Deadline.
“I really admired that she had her morals, and she wanted to stick to them, but it wasn’t something that she felt she needed to impose on people in an aggressive way. It just felt really natural, and when she asked, it was super easy, and we did it. I don’t think it was any harder; it was just a different way of doing costumes.”