Jane and Katie of Not Dogs
Entrepreneurs who are capitalising on the rapid rise of veganism give us an insight into their routes to enterprise…
Adopting a vegan diet of no meat, dairy, fish and eggs may seem like a dramatic step for many, but it is becoming ever more popular among health-conscious consumers.
And not only are people being swayed by the environmental and health benefits of becoming vegan but they’re also seeing high profile names such as Brad Pitt, Jeremy Corbyn, Pamela Anderson and even Bill Clinton switching to vegan lifestyles.
This booming trend has led to a rise in businesses being set up by entrepreneurs aimed at the vegan market. From food producers to clothing brands, cafes and even health and beauty products, the number of vegan businesses has soared over recent years.
One business born from this is Not Dogs, an award-winning, meat-free fast food brand founded by Brummie entrepreneurs Katie McDermott and Jane Yates. The duo launched the business in 2014 and started by selling their meat-free hot dogs to festival goers across the UK.
After witnessing first-hand just how much demand was out there for their products, they quickly decided to scale up the business and gave up their jobs in PR and marketing to work on the business full-time.
Jane told BQ: “In early 2014, we had the idea for a meat-free fast food brand that everyone (meat-eaters, veggies or vegans) could enjoy together, so we set about testing our idea and travelled across the UK festival scene in our innovative food truck selling meat-free hotdogs (Not Dogs!)
“We were feeling frustrated by the lack of trustworthy meaty meals and satisfying vegetarian food while out and about and thought we’d love to put something new into the world and the idea for Not Dogs was born.
“Coming at it from a meat-eater and vegetarian’s point of view we asked ourselves what would we personally want to eat which is where all our inventive house-made recipes come from.
“We started off selling Not Dogs with house-made toppings such as the Plain Jane, Kickin' Katie Nacho Dog (see what we did there) and our most popular - The Original Frank. The meat-free menu has since expanded to include meat-free burgers, sides and shakes.
“We couldn't have been happier with the response so we continued and embarked on another festival season, created and ran our first pop-up restaurant in London and visited Christmas markets every year before opening our first fast-casual restaurant in Birmingham's iconic Bullring in December 2016.”
The pairs biggest achievement however, despite the rapid growth of their start-up, came when they entered the Virgin Food Entrepreneur competition which attracted thousands of entrants from across the UK.
Jane said: “Not Dogs was named as runner-up in the Tastiest Startup category by Sir Richard Branson which was just fantastic! Not Dogs were also invited to be one of DEFRA's Food Stars in recognition of a food and drink company that is forging an exciting future in the industry. To have won awards in our first year was amazing.”
And looking forward, the pair have ambitious plans for the future, as Jane explains: “We are on a mission to make fast-food meat free, answering the demand for convenient, tasty and trustworthy fast food that is better for the environment, animals and people.
“We truly believe Not Dogs is the future of fast food. In the next five years we’d love to see Not Dogs in every major city in the UK and we’d love to get our food truck back on the road. One of the key reasons we started Not Dogs was to make meat-free more accessible for people and create a truly inclusive and engaging brand that everyone can feel part of.
“When Not Dogs is everyone’s go-to for fast food we know, all the hard work we’re putting in now will be worth it.”
Another entrepreneur benefiting from the vegan revolution is Canadian businesswoman Mellissa Morgan (also known as Ms Cupcake). Mellissa launched Ms. Cupcake, the UK’s first entirely vegan bakery, from the kitchen of her Brixton home back in 2010 when she was making the transition from vegetarian to vegan.
It was during this period that she started sourcing vegan foods which she could infuse into her new diet and noticed a gap in the market for entirely vegan cakes, which she was unable to source anywhere.
“Hailing originally from Canada, I was used to finding them dotted around all major cities,” Mellissa told BQ. “I was shocked to discover there wasn’t a single one anywhere in the UK – let alone London!
“I realised there was a major gap in what was set to be a massively growing market. I taught myself to bake and create vegan recipes and started a market stall back in 2010.
“Our first shop opened in 2011. Having previously worked in the theatre industry and education; this was my first time running a business.”
Like many other aspiring entrepreneurs at the time, Mellissa struggled to source funding to support her business venture and had to go at it alone.
“As for funding and investment, it was essentially non-existent in the beginning,” she said. “I had saved up a couple of thousand pounds of personal funds and invested that in getting initial equipment for the market stall and some assistance with design and branding.
“After that I managed to keep my overheads minimal for over a year by baking from home and working 18-hour days, seven days per week.
“As soon as I would make any money I would pump it right back in the business and by the end of that first year I had pulled enough money together to open our shop (on a shoestring mind you!) We often joke that the shop was ‘built on cupcakes’ – which is entirely true!”
With veganism becoming ever more popular, word of Ms. Cupcakes started to spread and people from across the UK started enquiring about its cakes, which boast a 5050 icing to cake ratio!
And the company hadn’t just caught the eye of sweet toothed hungry vegans; it also caught the eye of leading wholesalers such as Whole Foods Markets who were keen to stock its produce.
“Our turnover has grown quite dramatically since then due to working with wholesale clients like Whole Foods Markets and by streamlining our processes and improving productivity.”
Like many other successful food entrepreneurs, Mellissa has also moved into writing and has released a series of Ms. Cupcake recipe books to help further grow the brands reach.
She said: “I now spend some of my time travelling the world doing cookery demos and giving talks about baking and veganism in places I never imagined I would visit.
“Each time I see my cookbook in one of these places – having been translated into a different language – I feel quite proud of what myself and my team have achieved in a few short years.
“We will be following up our first cookbook (Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town – published by Random House in 2013) with a second cookbook. We are also planning to open a number of new retail outlets!”
It’s not just food producers benefiting either. Glaswegian born entrepreneur Lynn Jolly is the founder of the UK's first and only independent networking site for vegans - Bohemian Hippy.
The company provides an online shop for vegan and animal rights branded merchandise and a platform for people to network, communicate, find friends and even love.
It also provides advice and support for vegetarians and non-vegans who would like to know more about the vegan lifestyle.
“Bohemian Hippy was formed to try to make the vegan lifestyle easier for vegans and also easier for people wishing to transition to veganism,” she said.
“It is important that people looking for people to connect with can do so with ease and feel part of a family where they can ask questions, arrange meet-ups, find love and friends with like-minded people who share their own values about peace, love, and compassion to all beings.”
The website - which has experienced thousands of hits from around the globe since its soft launch in November - already has its sights on expanding its services onto the European stage.
Lynn now hopes her new website and her decades of experience will pave the way for a truly connected vegan community online.
“Bohemian Hippy is a website for vegans and activists and people interested in animal rights and veganism.
“To start with we will focus our efforts in the UK, but we hope to expand to Europe and internationally as we grow more popular.
“It is also a place for animal rights and vegan charities, groups, and businesses to promote themselves in any way they so desire.
“We serve people who are looking for love, friends, travel companions, gig buddies, resources, advice, support and also for people looking for merchandise to promote the animal rights and vegan message.
“This will include vegan athletes and bodybuilders who want to carry that message into the gym and other areas of fitness.”
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement