Twenty years ago, few Irish people had even heard of veganism. In the land of meat and potatoes, a plant-based diet was an alien concept.
How things have changed. While there are no firm figures on how many vegans there are in Ireland, the Vegan Society has run out of information packs, such is the level of demand.
Google corroborates this, with twenty times as many searches for veganism in Ireland in August 2017 as there were in August 2007.
The food industry is responding to this change. Marks and Spencer has its own vegan range, as does Tesco. Pizza Hut has vegan pizzas and last year, in a sign of changing times, Guinness went vegan and stopped using fish bladders in its brewing process after two and a half centuries of doing so.
While many choose the vegan diet because of concerns about animal welfare, the environment and personal health, a significant number still miss the taste of meat.
This has led to the growth of meat substitute companies. Beyond Meat has Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor while Memphis meats is backed by Richard Branson.
Earlier this year, Kerry Group bought Ojah BV, a Dutch manufacturer of ‘textured meat alternatives’. Ojah first launched in 2010 and by 2016 had rolled out its meat substitute brand to 21 countries.
The vegan market is expected to continue growing, with estimates that the meat and dairy substitute industry alone will be worth $40bn by 2020.
Here in Ireland, husband and wife Gavyn Pedley and Aisling Mooney set up their vegan food business, Moodley Manor, in 2014. The pair met at university. Aisling had been a vegan for years and Gavyn embraced the diet six months after they met.
He found it challenging at first. “Everything in restaurants had cheese, eggs or mayonnaise in it, even salads,” he says. “At home, eating a plate of vegetables when I’d been used to eating bacon sandwiches was torture. I wanted the same great taste and convenience as before.”
He realised there was a gap in the market for such products. “I missed bacon most so we started developing a recipe for that,” he says. “Then we set up a website asking people to buy our bacon. Using their money, we hired a kitchen, made the product and spent a week travelling around Ireland delivering it to everyone who had ordered.”
Things snowballed from there and Gavin and Aisling found themselves working full-time on the business within a month and a half.
Their product range now includes that Badass Bacon as well as Boss Burgers, Chick-hun, More-ish Mince, Savage Sausage, 3AM Garlic Mayo, Moodley Roast and Devil’s Deli Salami Slices.
Taste is the main priority at Moodley Manor. “We are vegan for ethical reasons but we want food that tastes good – food you want to eat for eating’s sake,” says Gavyn.
They use a mix of every day and unusual ingredients to achieve this, such as wheat protein, vegetable stocks, chickpea flour, tomatoes and miso paste.
Customer feedback is important to Gavyn and Aisling. “We have a food truck in Bushy Park in Terenure, Dublin on Saturdays,” says Gavyn. “That gives us a chance to try out new products. If it works on the truck, we offer it online through our website and then put it into our product launch cycle.”
Moodley Manor has grown dramatically in the past four years. It now distributes its products throughout Ireland and the UK and has just launched into Europe with a distributor in Germany.
“If chefs want to use our products, we go into their kitchens to show them how to cook them,” says Gavyn. “We also give advice on how to create vegan options for their menus. A lot of chefs don’t realise that honey is off the menu for vegans, for example. We help with all of that.”
They recently worked with the Paddocks Bar in Clonee, County Dublin. “They wanted a vegan carvery so we helped them to create one using our roasts,” says Gavyn. “We also made sure there was no dairy in the potatoes or vegetables and made our own vegan gravy.” It was a great success, with customers tucking into more than 20kg of vegan meat on the first day.
“It was so successful that not only will the Paddocks continue their vegan carvery, they have decided to make all of their potatoes, vegetables and gravy vegan from now on,” says Gavyn.
Gavyn and Aisling intend to continue expanding Moodley Manor’s retail distribution network and to work with more restaurants across Ireland. “We want everyone to be able to access vegan options everywhere and for those options to be as good as, if not better than, anything else on the menu,” says Gavyn.