Veganuary might be over but plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular on the island as they are around the rest of the world says ANDREA BUSFIELD
Vegan outlets across the island are not only blossoming, but flourishing with some businesses reporting a threefold increase in sales in the past month, a surge attributed to a combination of Veganuary and the documentary film The Game Changers starring James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and Lewis Hamilton.
“The response this month has been incredible,” owner of the first fully-vegan restaurant in Paphos Kerry Metcalf said. “There was a steady pick up in business over the past year, but we’ve welcomed many more customers this January, easily three times as many, which is very encouraging.”
Kerry, and her husband Dave, launched Meraki Market Café 19 months ago knowing it would be a gamble – and times were tough at the beginning. “It wasn’t plain sailing and we were a tad apprehensive about what would happen at the beginning of 2020. This time last year, we’d only been open six months and the constant rain didn’t help our business at all.
“But we’ve worked hard to make Meraki a positive experience for everyone and I’m delighted to say that today 70 per cent of our customers are actually meat eaters. Our non-vegans primarily come to us for health reasons usually because the doctor has told them to lay off meat and dairy, so they’re turning to us for help.
“The Game Changers documentary brought in a lot of new customers, without doubt, and this January, we also saw a lot of interest in our meal plans thanks to Veganuary – including from local athletes – and our phone is constantly on the go with people ringing for advice about where to find certain ingredients in Paphos or good, easy recipes online.”
The Veganuary phenomenon began life as a crowdfunded campaign in the UK to encourage people to try a vegan diet for a month. Starter kits and restaurant guides were offered to all participants as well as access to a recipe database. Since the event began in 2014, the number of signups has more than doubled year on year with 350,000 people taking up the challenge in 2020.
However, it is the Netflix documentary The Game Changers that has had the most dramatic impact, especially among men. The 2018 film explored the rise of plant-based eating in professional sports, supporting claims that a vegan diet is better for strength, speed and stamina.
Suzanne Makedona, owner of Vegan4Life The Vegan Shop in Limassol, credits The Game Changers for an increase in custom. “The people who come to my shop come for various reasons, mainly it’s an ethical decision they’ve made, for the animals, or it’s for health reasons,” she said. “However, many people have also been positively influenced after watching the documentary The Game Changers, which busted the myth that vegans don’t get enough protein. It actually shows the opposite is true and that athletic performance improves through a plant-based diet.”
Suzanne’s store in the heart of Limassol is the first exclusively vegan supermarket on the island offering everything from plant-based burgers, sausages and pizzas to dairy-free milks, cheeses and ice creams. Although the shop only opened in November, business has been brisk. “Since opening, we’ve heard many inspiring stories with entire families being encouraged by their young children to go vegan or people who have recovered from severe illnesses going plant-based. The list goes on.”
According to The Vegan Society, a UK charity established in 1944, there were 11,655 vegan food and drink businesses launched in Europe in 2019, an increase of 93 per cent on 2016. They also predict that by 2040 only 40 per cent of the global population will be consuming meat.
That is a prediction that Managing Director of St Raphael’s Resort in Limassol Farah Shammas supports. “The younger generation is changing and I think one day the majority of people will look back in disbelief at how we eat now. Personally, I think a healthier, more conscious world can only be a good thing,” she said.
St Raphael’s Resort gave Cyprus its first ever vegan hotel restaurant last year after trialling an almost-vegan version the year before at their beachside venue Seashells Healthy Living. “Initially Seashells was a normal restaurant,” Farah explained. “Then, in 2018, we went 95 per cent vegan with no meat, no dairy and no sugar – only keeping some fish on the menu – and we tripled our revenue in the first year.
“Everyone said we were crazy at the time, that this was Cyprus and people wanted souvlaki, but we stayed committed and last year we made the menu completely vegan. We’re very proud of the fact that we are the only fully-vegan beach restaurant in Cyprus. Right now, Seashells is closed between November and April so we have added our most popular vegan options to our hotel menus, but when we open again it will be as a proper restaurant operating all day and some evenings as well because the demand is there.”
The Cyprus Vegan Society’s Ana-Maria Stefania said she fully expects this demand to increase over the coming years as people become more aware of the realities of the food industry and its long-term environmental impact. She also believes the 2040 prediction of her fellow advocates in the UK is a conservative one. “Personally, I would be even more optimistic in regard to the percentage. Due to technology and all the information available for free, the masses are reached quickly, awareness is raised and humanity is waking up rapidly.”