Vegan business busting sales targets
When I congratulated Fortify Café of Maidstone on their transition from a vegetarian to vegan eatery way back in April 2015, I was fairly certain they would enjoy surging sales as vegans from all over surrounding Kent flocked to dine with them in a show of support.
The initial sales were strong in Fortify‘s first vegan month, but how has business been since the initial excitement wore off? Did people stay loyal? Were vegetarians and omnivores running for the doors in droves because they couldn’t get dairy cheese or milk?
I spoke with owner James Hooper exactly one year on from the big vegan switch and I think it’s safe to say the information he shares is nothing short of inspirational.
See what he had to say about his restaurant’s first year as a vegan eatery below:
FGV: Congratulations on Fortify reaching one year as a vegan café. How has the experience been overall?
JH: Thank you! On a personal level, it’s been amazing. I remember getting to the end of our first day as a fully vegan business and being wiped out after such a busy day but I had such a strong feeling this was what we were meant to be doing. At least a few times a week we hear customers getting a little bit giddy that they can order anything off the menu and not worry about the ingredients – those moments are the most rewarding for us. We’ve so many non vegan customers that responded positively to the change too.
FGV: You mentioned online that this vegan year has been the busiest year out of your 7 years operating as a business. Why has vegan food been so popular for you? How much better has business been?
JH: We actually seem to have attracted more omnivore customers who are interested in cleaner healthier food – vegan food often has that label even though we don’t shy away from naughty treats! People also visit us from further afield now too, we believe because it’s still a challenge to find a 100% vegan eatery and they don’t mind traveling to have that experience.
Compared to the previous year, our turnover has increased by 25%.
FGV: Have there been any negative experiences due to the vegan switch?
JH: This has been a ‘no negatives switch’. We know a couple of customers who stopped coming because we were no longer using cows milk but we gained a whole load of new customers and believe that in someway, our actions will have even touched those people who no longer visit.
FGV: Some vegetarian cafés worry that they will lose customers in droves if they don’t serve cow milk for hot drinks and cheese in sandwiches. What has your experience been with non-vegan customers asking for dairy?
JH: Our signage says we’re a vegan eatery but people do still ask, mostly when they’re wanting to order a ‘skinny latte’. We just explain that all our milks are very low fat and that they’re all plant based. We’ve gained great confidence in what we serve and I think this comes across to the customers. If someone usually has cows milk, we suggest soya professional and let them know how it’s the closest thing to the dairy taste and texture and that we’re sure they’ll love it!
Our best selling toastie was always sausage, mustard & cheddar – we just switched the cheddar for vegan smoked gouda. A good sandwich usually has a combo of ingredients and swapping dairy cheese for vegan does nothing to take away the appeal of a sandwich made with quality ingredients.
FGV: Can you give a piece of advice to a business considering switching to a 100% vegan menu?
JH: If you’re considering it, the universe is already whispering in your ear that you should and can do it! Give out samples of what you’d like to serve instead (we gave samples of our vegan cheeses a few weeks before our switch and started to include them in menu specials). Do the same with milks. Give people a challenge to try their latte with another milk and offer to swap it if they don’t like it (no one ever asked us to swap a drink so they could have cows milk). Use a selection of milks and cheeses (the Mouth Watering Vegan cookery book got us started with our cashew cheeses). Be upbeat about the change and don’t be afraid of the occasional frown when you deliver your awesome news!