Have you heard the term “vegepreneur”? This is the definition of an entrepreneur that is also a vegetarian, and strives to incorporate their ethics into their businesses. Vegepreneurship is on the rise, with more and more products coming out that are considered vegetarian or vegan.
It is reported that the number of vegetarians in the U.S. while still a minority, has been increasing steadily from about 1% in 1994 to 4% this year. This is according to a survey commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, a Baltimore nonprofit company. Restaurant entrepreneurs have capitalized on the demand presented by vegetarians, with chains such as Native Foods Café and Veggie Grill, which thrive in cities like Boulder, Chicago, and Seattle. Meat and dairy-substitute brands have also benefited from the demands of vegetarians. One recent survey showed that U.S. consumers spent about $2.6 billion on soy foods and beverages in 2011.
A somewhat new development, small businesses outside of the food industry that cater to the animal rights and environmental concerns are popping up in cities such as New York. These businesses range from fashion design to furniture manufacturing. The country’s first vegan shoe shop, called MooShoes, opened in New York in 2001. Sisters Sara and Erica Kubersky run the company. Erica stated, “We were never big shoe people. I mean, we like shoes as much as the next girl, but it was more of a vegan push for us.”
Since MooShoe’s development, competition from fellow vegepreneurs has risen. Larger shoe brands such as Dansko and Dr. Martens now make vegan shoes as well, using products such as hemp and canvas. The Kubersky sisters see this as more of an opportunity and encouraging factor than a discouraging fact. Other vegepreneurs, such as the meat-substitute business EcoVegan president and co-founder Sharon Lu, does not regard other vegetarian businesses such as hers competitors, but instead considers anyone in the meat industry her competitor.
One challenge to these vegetarian businesses is reaching consumers out of their vegetarian and vegan customer base. While the environmentally safe and animal friendly products immediately attract those who value those factors, it’s not enough for these business to appeal to only them. Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, the founder of Vaute Couture, a vegan coat company, states “We do have something to offer to people who aren’t motivated by the ethics behind it. I believe that’s an incentive for some, but you also have to blow someone away with functionality and design.”
Klein, Karen E. “Vegepreneurs Set Their Sights Beyond Food” 10/26/12