veggies2If you’re like me, you at least take a serious, and guilty, look in the Organic and Vegetarian section of your grocery store, but may be put off by the significantly higher cost of these products compared to less pure, less wholesome, meat- and dairy-containing products. Part of this is due to lack of volume of organic, vegan and vegetarian products, part of it is due to the fact that it takes more work to produce them, and part of it is due to the fact that many of these products are heavily processed and packaged. You can find these products in bulk, at cheaper prices, in natural/health food stores, and sometimes at local farmers’ markets, but for most of us that means adding additional stops on your shopping trip, since you can’t get all your groceries at these places.

A recent study indicated that the exploding European demand for organic products will only be sustained if the price premium relative to non-organic products is held to no more than 20-25%. My guess would be that North American consumers are much more price sensitive, and premiums will have to be reduced to no more than 10% to attain major market share.

Before botanic (meat-free, dairy-free, chemical-free) foods can start taking a big chunk out of the grocery market, and really start to have an impact on the quality of the food most people eat, on public health, on our beleaguered environment, and on the despicable practices and animal cruelty of factory farms, we need to solve these problems. That means we’re going to have to be willing to be innovative and open-minded about both the process and products, provided this doesn’t compromise the quality of these products or the nutritional, social and environmental objectives that are behind many people’s choice to adopt a botanic diet. Last June I proposed a 10-point plan to take botanic foods mainstream:

  1. Rename vegan foods botanic foods, and vegans botanivores.
  2. Remind people that grow-your-own botanic food is free.
  3. Make botanic products available in bulk.
  4. Educate people that botanic foods are easy and quick to prepare, and delicious.
  5. Invent and celebrate botanic sauces.
  6. Merge the best of international botanic cuisine.
  7. Educate the public that botanic diets are healthy, and that many meats and other polluted foods are not.
  8. Invent delicious botanic substitutes for dairy and meat products.
  9. End agricultural subsidies.
  10. Educate people that a botanic diet can help you lose weight.

Essentially, everything we eat consists of some combination of protein, fat, carbohydrates, water, natural micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes etc.), and often artificial ingredients (preservatives, colourizers, texturizers, flavourizers, and inadvertent chemicals and other pollutants picked up in the production process). Where do we draw the line on botanic foods? I think we want them to be chemical and pollutant-free, which means they need to be organically produced. We don’t want irradiated foods with their proven health hazards and nutritional damage. And we don’t want genetically manufactured foods, because they interfere with and potentially destroy ecosystems. But as long as all the ingredients are natural and unpolluted, and the product is healthy and delicious, I don’t think we should object to a little chemistry in the industrial kitchen. Hempburgers anyone? Since cellulose occurs naturally and makes an excellent fat substitute, can we find a way to use it as a food product without mixing it in a chemical soup as is done today? And instead of poisoning weeds and dousing crops with Frankenstein products like Round-Up, is there a way to make edible weeds a ‘growth’ industry?

Supposing you’re an aspiring entrepreneur and you want to help meet the need for inexpensive yet wholesome, widely-available botanic foods. Points 3, 5 and 8 of my 10-point plan above would be excellent starting points for a new enterprise. My articles on Natural Enterprise can help you through the process of building the business, and here’s a few additional thoughts specific to botanic food enterprises:

  • Many Hollywood actors and other celebrities are vegetarians or vegans. Consider asking them to endorse or even lend their name to your new product. They might not even charge you for it, and give you a great marketplace boost.
  • Other than price, the top criteria that most people use when deciding which foods to buy are convenience and flavour. Just like new products in any other industry, yours has to be better (more flavourful), cheaper, or faster (more convenient) than what’s out there now, if it’s going to succeed.
  • Consider working with the Food Science departments of universities — lots of expertise at a modest cost.
  • According to one recent study, the major deterrent to buying organic foods is perishability, as more shoppers are choosing to shop for food less often. Keep shelf-life in mind as you develop your new products.
  • Several studies say ethnic foods are a fast-growing segment. There may be great opportunities for botanic ethnic products.
  • If you’re going to get beyond the specialty stores and be mainstream, you’re probably going to need to partner with some company that already has a foothold in the big grocery chains. In doing so, try to find a partner that shares your company’s values.
  • Another rule of new product introduction is to make it easy for customers to switch to your product from something they already like. Research existing meat and dairy substitutes, and market your new product as a healthy, inexpensive, guilt-free substitute for something that is already very popular.

Why don’t I start such an enterprise myself? I don’t know very much about the food industry. And my knowledge and skills in chemistry and biology are abysmal. If you ever saw me in the kitchen you’d understand! But I’d be pleased to provide assistance any way I can to those entrepreneurs who have the industry knowledge and skill to make a go of it.

If you’re not an aspiring entrepreneur, this is still an excellent time to Take the VegPledge, and learn more about the value of a botanic diet.

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  1. Jon Husband says:

    Re: point #8 … isn’t soy, and soy protein (soy milk, and most of the meat substitutes out there) exactly that … and at the moment it seems almost as if it has a niche / the niche to itself. I have noticed that the marketing of soy products has gotten more assertive / more mainstream over the past year or two.

  2. Rajiv says:

    An interesting article in counterpunch “Beyond Organic” about localization of food production as well as it being organichttp://counterpunch.org/minnick12252004.html

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