Eat, Drink, and Be Veggie

by Paul Maxwell @ Sweetbird

Long gone are the stereotypes of all vegetarians being aging hippies who eat nothing but lentils and enjoy tie-dye clothes with a near-religious zeal. Making sure that your business is catering to the needs of the US's estimated 7.3 million vegetarians (which include 1 million vegans) and the 22.8 million who follow a near-vegetarian diet makes sound financial sense. To ensure that you're serving your vegetarian and vegan customers well, you will need to know what is excluded from these diets. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter (which include gelatin, royal jelly and lard) while vegans also shun products which are derived from animals (including milk from animals, eggs, honey and derivatives).

However, it can be a minefield for caterers as many companies use ingredients that can be derived from both animal and non-animal sources and some of the animal-derived ingredients can be suitable for vegetarians, but not vegans. Common coffee shop ingredients that can be a hidden nightmare for your animal-free customers include syrups, sauces and smoothies.

So why are some syrups, sauces and smoothies not suitable for vegans and vegetarians? Sugar is a major cause for concern, as to refine sugar you need to clarify it and remove any impurities that may discolor the final product. One of the ways this can be done is by using 'bone black' or animal charcoal, a byproduct of the animal glue and gelatin industries. As with any filtration process, it will leave trace amounts of the filtrate in the final solution. This results in a final product that is not only unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans but also for many different religious groups. There are also issues involving animal-derived colorants such as Cochineal (E120 - made by crushing the female scale insect into a powder) - a common 'natural' colorant, unsuitable for both vegetarian and vegans. These are just a few of the hidden 'nasties' that can be added to a seemingly innocent product making it unsuitable for both vegans and vegetarians.

This lack of clarity can be off-putting for caterers and consumers alike, who can be left in a dietary limbo, unsure as to whether a single ingredient is animal derived or not. Brands such as Sweetbird have taken the decision to have all their products certified as vegetarian by the world's oldest and most respected group, Vegetarian Society UK and they proudly display the 'approved by' logo on all their products. Additionally they have had all the products that are suitable for vegans approved by Europe's largest vegan group – Viva! These external bodies double-check all the ingredients used, how they are produced and will only give their approval to products that meet all their strict criteria. This gives consumers an additional guarantee as for example, to gain approval from either group, all ingredients also have to be GMO-free.

So once you have ingredients that you can trust, you can begin to craft drinks to meet the demands of your customers. Always have soy milk as a standard option as it's not just vegans who choose to go dairy-free, and how about stocking vegan marshmallows such as 'Dandies' from Chicago Soy Dairy, suitable for all as they don't contain gelatin. These simple steps can be used to help you successfully target and acquire new customers. More recipe options can be found on the Sweetbird website (see below) which you can use to tempt all your customers, not just the vegetarian and vegan ones.

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