Veganuary catches up with the creative minds behind the pioneering vegan cheesemonger
In early February this year, my sister Charlotte and I teamed up to open the UK’s first cheesemonger dedicated entirely to plant-based cheese. We are so proud to be working with our suppliers to promote the brilliant cheeses we stock, and you may have seen in the media that we’ve even managed to ruffle a few feathers in the dairy industry. To put it simply, Charlotte and I have always been voracious, unabashed cheese lovers.
Unfortunately, Charlotte suffered with food allergies throughout most of her 20s, before finally identifying her intolerance to dairy (amongst other foods) after a number of medical tests and special diets. As for me, I was “flexitarian” for a number of years before fully embracing veganism and was becoming increasingly interested in vegan food and cooking.
The Search For Perfect Vegan Cheese
Faced with my sister’s lactose intolerance and my ambition to eventually leave dairy behind, we both began shopping around for tasty dairy-free cheeses. While we were pleased to witness a rise in the alternatives offered by supermarkets in our area, we found that these didn’t satisfy us in terms of flavour. At VegFest one year, we ran around sampling all of the vegan cheeses we could and our eyes were opened to all of the possibilities outside the narrow range of products we had tried so far.
Soon we started going to markets around London trying different vegan cheeses, but it was becoming quite time consuming to source our favourites from markets that were often far from home. We started to wonder why there didn’t seem to be a shop that stocked all the cheeses we loved in one place. We eventually decided to take it upon ourselves to get this idea off the ground! We were both certain that there must be more people like us who need better dairy alternatives. We were actually spot on with our prediction and have met many people in the same boat as us since beginning our venture. Since opening our shop we’ve heard from so many people how dairy cheese has been the hardest food to give up when transitioning to veganism, and how much those with dairy allergies miss cheese.
Turning Plans Into Reality
We began discussing starting the business in autumn 2018 and began putting our plans in motion from December onwards. This involved approaching suppliers at their market stalls or online, sampling their cheeses and assessing their interest in our venture. To our delight, the response was overwhelmingly positive and we found so many delicious cheeses to sell in our store, so this process certainly reaffirmed our faith in our venture. Before we knew it, we’d bought a deli fridge, all the kit we needed and had begun viewing properties around London where we could set up shop. Once we’d bought the kit, this really was the moment we started to realise the ideas we’d been discussing in the previous months. It was really exciting to see our plans take shape!
Our Biggest Challenges and Proudest Moments
As two people with no formal background in food who have never set up a shop before, there have certainly been a few bumps in the road, but also very proud moments along the way. One of our greatest challenges so far has been finding a space to rent in London that isn’t extortionately priced and offers us the facilities we need.
One of our proudest moments was when we stood up to Dairy UK’s blatant attempt to bully us as a small business. We’ve received overwhelming support from our suppliers and other plant-based businesses who suffered the same harassment from the meat and dairy industry and have similar concerns about being bullied into bankruptcy by lobbying groups. There’s certainly power in numbers, so we’re just happy to know we’re not alone, and are proud to offer our solidarity to other businesses who may be facing the same issues as us.
We’ve also been really proud to share all the positive customer feedback we’ve had with our suppliers regarding their products. They work so hard to create their cheeses and it’s a privilege to share our customers’ praises with them. It’s really rewarding to work with other small independent businesses as we all make a big difference to each other’s lives and share in each other’s successes.
We’re so happy to say La Fauxmagerie has been even better received than we’d expected. In our first 2-3 weeks we consistently sold out of stock and had to increase our orders with our suppliers, a few of whom will actually need to scale up in order to meet the demand of our customers. It’s a brilliant problem to have, and just goes to show how many people need alternatives to dairy cheese. We’ve also received hundreds of queries about ordering online and are currently looking at setting this up so we can reach more customers throughout the UK. It seems that many of them have been waiting for a shop like ours for a very long time and some even travel from places like Oxfordshire and further afield to stock up with us! Some customers come in feeling a little sceptical or unsure as to whether they’ll enjoy vegan cheese or not, but we always find them something they like and it’s lovely to see the look of surprise on their faces when they do.
It feels great to be able to help people enjoy the cheese experience they miss by making such high-quality dairy-free alternatives more readily available to them. For a parent who has children with allergies, this can make such a big difference to their meals at home and makes life so much easier. It also means that people who are vegan or dairy-intolerant can contribute to cheese boards at gatherings with their loved ones and not feel they have to miss out. It holds a lot of social value for many people. We even had one customer who became quite emotional when they sampled the cheeses, because they were so pleased to finally find a vegan cheese they enjoyed.
The Future Is Bright
Veganism has grown significantly in recent years, along with consumers’ awareness of the impact their diet has on their health and on the planet. For instance, Veganuary achieved a record number of pledges this year, while The Economist claims that 2019 will be “The Year of The Vegan”. As long as society’s awareness of how the world’s voracious consumption of animal products continues to ravage the environment and global health, we can only imagine that more and more people will commit to veganism in the future. We believe that the environmental and ethical crisis we currently find ourselves in will only encourage the growth of more brilliantly-inventive plant-based products and initiatives – it’s an incredibly exciting time to be joining the plant-based movement!
In terms of our own business, we would love to expand and open new shops around the country, but our first point of call will definitely be to arrange an online subscription service. There are many people around the country who have emailed us to enquire about mail order, and we really want to be able to give them access to the delicious products we stock. We are currently a relatively small operation; however, we are looking to get this up and running in the next few months so that we can extend our reach to customers around the UK who are in desperate need of delicious plant-based cheese.
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