The Irish food firms meeting the growing demand for vegan food

Munster's plant-based producers have seen the future and view 'Veganuary' as more than just a trend
The Irish food firms meeting the growing demand for vegan food

Nino Huzjak and Martina Radkryic at VeganKo on Kyle Street, Cork

January 19 is the date the average person is likely to give up their New Year’s resolutions, but the animals, the planet and Cork’s vegan business owners are hoping this year’s ‘Veganuary’ sign-ups are still following the plant-based diet today.

‘Veganuary,’ an annual challenge that encourages people to follow a vegan lifestyle for the month of January had a record level of sign-ups this year, with more than 550,000 people worldwide committing to eating nothing but plants for 31 days.

While figures for Irish sign-ups aren’t available, Irish grocery market share figures from Kantar last January suggest the campaign is having an impact on our shores. Sales of alternative milk grew by 20% during January last year while meat, fish and poultry dropped by 3%.

As a result of the changing preferences, many food producers are racing to meet the demand after spotting a fast-growing market. One such producer is Robert Christie from Carrigaline, who started making plant-based cheese after a conversation with some vegan friends.

“I asked them what do you miss most and the primary thing was cheese and rashers. I wasn't experienced enough at the time to attempt the rashers, but I knew I could do the cheese.” 

Mr Christie, who has been a chef for over 50 years, said he first sold his products at a market in Dublin that had a big vegan demographic.

"I went up three times and each time I sold out. The response was just phenomenal."

“I've been doing this now four and a half years and the response is still the same.” 

Robert Christie with some of his vegan cheeses.
Robert Christie with some of his vegan cheeses.

Mr Christie says most of his customers are vegan and jokes that “they like to keep a good thing to themselves.” However, his products, which include a wide variety of speciality cheeses as well as a new chocolate spread, are widely marketable as they are also gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free.

Christie, who turns 70 this year, has recently sold his business to a new Cork vegan restaurant VeganKo, who will continue using his original recipes and products under a new brand name ‘My Vegan Butcher.’ In his time producing and selling his own plant-based produce, Christie said he has seen “phenomenal” growth in the number of vegans showing up at markets and ordering from him on his various social media accounts, and he envisions the market is set for further growth.

“Businessmen aren’t stupid,” he said.

Indeed they aren’t, and for vegans, vegetarians and ‘flexitarians’ across the Munster region, there has been an influx of new plant-based products on supermarket shelves from some of the country’s top food and beverage producers in recent years.

Irish grocery chains like SuperValu and Dunnes Stores now offer their own plant-based ranges alongside veggie versions of Clonakilty’s classic white and black pudding, Eden burgers (owned by sausage and pudding manufacturers Loughnane’s of Galway) and Flahavan’s Oat Milk to name just a few.

Through both acquisitions and organic growth, Kerry Group has also greatly expanded its plant protein range for food and beverage companies in recent years, including launching a meat-free version of Denny’s famous sausages last year. Denny’s Meat Free range is now the fastest-growing meat-free brand in Ireland.

Kobus De Klerk, Global VP Proteins at Kerry Group said plant-based proteins are increasing in popularity in their Irish market, with many people choosing products with plant protein for both environmental and health.

“Research has informed us that 40% of Irish adults believe they should reduce the amount of meat in their household and almost half of Irish adults claim to be either on a vegetarian diet or considering one.” 

“We believe that Covid-19 has accelerated this trend,” he added, “as it has led consumers looking to incorporate healthier food into their diets as a means to support their long-term health.” 

In monetary value, De Klerk said the Irish plant-based meat-free market is expected to grow from €23m to €39m by 2024.

And while the number of people choosing to be vegetarian or vegan is increasing, he believes the growth in the sector is also being driven by the number of people adopting a “flexitarian” or “casual vegetarian” diet.

De Klerk said Kerry Group are committed to expanding their plant protein portfolio with plans for further research and development into discovering new plant protein sources.

“There are over 300,000 species in the plant kingdom, yet only 0.1% of plant phytonutrients have been examined,” he said, suggesting that Cork’s vegan population can look forward to many more innovative plant-based products in the coming years.

Nino Huzjak, who runs the vegan fast-food venture VeganKo with his partner Martina Ratkovic said he expects many people stick with the 'Veganuary' diet after trying it for the 31 days.

“Most will probably see the health benefits of it and that's why people actually stick to it.” The Croatian couple, who themselves are vegans, started experimenting with making vegan fast-food at home before testing their products at local farmers markets.

After a successful stint operating out of Drew’s Service Station in Turner’s Cross, the couple opened their first bricks and mortar takeaway on Kyle Street in August which is on Deliveroo and Just Eat.


Huzjak’s takeout offers everything from doner kebabs to cheeseburgers, hotdogs to garlic and cheese chips - with everything made from dairy and meat-free substitutes.

VeganKo estimate around 50% of their customer base is vegan, but the other half is made up of vegetarians and so-called ‘flexitarians’ whose diet is centred on plant foods with the occasional inclusion of meat.

“A lot of people are trying to reduce meat as much as possible,” Huzjak explained, adding that customers motivation for choosing to go meat-free or dairy-free can vary from ethical reasons to environmental reasons and health benefits.

In the last two to three years of selling his products at farmers markets, out of kiosks and now in his own takeout, he says he has noticed the interest in veganism and plant-based eating increase “every month.” 

Almost a third (30%) of restaurants on Deliveroo now offer at least one vegan option on their menu, while plant-based food orders have increased by a whopping 198% between 2019 and 2020 in Ireland.

Lauren Marples (left)of 143V with sister Edel (middle) and mum Eileen (right).
Lauren Marples (left)of 143V with sister Edel (middle) and mum Eileen (right).

These figures don’t come as a surprise of Lauren Marples, who runs 143V on Lower Glanmire Road.

“When I first went vegan, some people would have considered it to be an "extreme" diet,” she said. “Nowadays vegan food products have become widespread.” 

Ms Marples chose to go vegan after her experience eating a predominantly plant-based diet while living in Cambodia.

“Rice and vegetable were staples which was quite different to the meat and two veg diet we are accustomed to in Ireland,” she said.

When she returned home, she returned to her usual diet and noticed how regularly she felt lethargic, bloated and sick.

“After some research, I discovered the health benefits and the atrocities happening in the agricultural industry. My mom, sister and I went vegan overnight.” 

Ms Marples said the family had a difficult time eating out as vegans when they initially transitioned to the diet so she started experimenting with “veganising” classic dishes made with meat and dairy. She went on to study plant-based cooking in Spain before opening 143V in 2017.

Like her colleagues in VeganKo, Ms Marples estimates around 50% of her customers are vegan.

“With groups, we tend to find that one or two vegans have brought their friends or family who aren't vegan to celebrate an occasion.” 

“Several of our customers have serious allergies and eat in our restaurant because there is no dairy, eggs, fish, molluscs and crustaceans present in our kitchen.” 

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