Start Up Of The Week: the‘artyvegan
“Having a lifelong love for the planet, we understand that vegan food is provably better for carbon emissions, land use, animal welfare and biodiversity; but as a business wanting to lead the way in taking ethical and environmental responsibility, we don’t think this alone is enough.”
As part of our efforts to support plant-based start-ups as much as we possibly can during this tough time, we are going to be shouting out a business each week and promoting them on our blog, social media, and business newsletter!
The start-up of the week is the‘artyvegan, makers of artisanal plant-based food, made from the heart and founded by the father-daughter duo Maurelio & Ellora.
Can you tell us a bit about the‘artyvegan?
We are Maurelio and Ellora - a father daughter culinary duo, vegan for over thirty years, that specialise in the sustainable use of the soya bean. Using a unique artisanal approach, we like to look at ‘vegan cooking’ with a broad audience in mind that aims to bring fresh, handmade, healthy, environmentally friendly food to everyone.
Having a lifelong love for the planet, we understand that vegan food is provably better for carbon emissions, land use, animal welfare and biodiversity; but as a business wanting to lead the way in taking ethical and environmental responsibility, we don’t think this alone is enough.
What led you to develop and utilise the soya bean solely in your product line?
As a family we travelled all over the world living in different countries every few years for over 30 years. When we were first in Japan, Maurelio had the privilege of learning the art of making tofu from the true artisanal locals who would make it everyday out of necessity. These local women taught us the many uses and functions of the soya bean within Japanese culture, and how if used correctly, this magical bean could provide enough nourishment and variety to feed a family for weeks.
Many years later we lived in India and coincidentally the farmers who lived next to us were also using large soya bean farms solely to feed their cows. We taught them how to substitute Paneer (which was more expensive for them to buy) with Tofu and use the remains of their Okara to feed the cows and nourish themselves. The result was extraordinary, in less than 3 months we were reaching all walks of life by supplying the largest homeopathic hospital in the area and many guest houses and restaurants with tofu cheesecake, okara donuts and tofu, as a ‘pick me up’ for their diet conscious patients or the passing tourists.
“The soya bean is a plant that keeps on giving and in essence we love to work with it because you can get almost everything you need from it. It’s incredible what can be done with the soya bean and it’s why we fall in love with it everyday more and more.”
The soya bean is a plant that keeps on giving and in essence we love to work with it because you can get almost everything you need from it. Out of shampoo? Use the whey of the soya bean when making tofu. Out of washing up liquid ? Use the soya water discard. Want to make meringue? Use the foam of the soya milk. Want to have endless fibre and protein in your diet? Don’t throw away any of that Okara - eat it! Fancy some luxury? Then just make tofu... it’s incredible what can be done with the soya bean and it’s why we fall in love with it every day more and more. If grown properly, it’s multi-purpose use is highly sustainable.
You began by creating fresh tofu. What decision led you to experiment with other products and what stages did you undertake to develop these alternatives?
The idea of scheese was born after Ellora (being vegan all her life) wanted a product that resembled the real thing. No nut flavour, no coconut residue, just something delicious that melted as cheese did.
Our first scheese invention was our Chive and Garlic Chèvre, a tangy and creamy log that nodded to the soft goats cheese. While tofu seemed to be an excelled base ingredient, we wanted to experiment more with using soya milk instead. After much trial and error, we created a full range based on soya milk: the smokey Muenster, the melting truffle ‘cam, a hearty porcini or a spicy piquant.
From there I think we decided to keep experimenting with delicatessen style products, often sacrificed by those turning vegan including cold seitan ‘meats’, spiced and sun dried condiments, mylks and staples. That’s where we are now, just creating a range that reflects what we love our staples to be.
“As a business we are continually striving to think outside the box for new, innovative solutions to reducing our environmental impact everyday.”
The brand prides itself on "keeping it green". Can you tell me what steps you take in the kitchen and packaging which enable you to achieve this?
From seed to plate, our packaging is entirely compostable, reusable or recyclable, from supplying individual customers to shops. We have also set up a Tupperware and Jar exchange system that allows the majority of our regular customers and wholesalers to keep their packaging down, and we actively encourage people to try this out.
Our new refrigerated van is as green as possible, with a catalytic reduction system which means that our deliveries are now 100% ‘ultra low emission’ and ‘congestion zone’ compliant.
Out of the 4 days we produce food, we only generate one bag of food waste. Of course we would like to get this to zero, we re-use every part of the soya bean in our own products. Any left overs are donated to charity or collected by a zero food waste disposal company, that turns it into compost. Nothing goes to landfill.
We are proud to say that 90% of our base ingredients are organic and we always endeavour to balance the environmental credentials of the ingredient producers, with the carbon footprint of transporting them and through ethical sourcing that promote equal and fair wages for workers.
As a business we are continually striving to think outside the box for new, innovative solutions to reducing our environmental impact everyday.
What is it like running a family business, being a father daughter duo, what is the dynamic like in the workplace?
There are always ups and downs when you work with people so close to you, but the truth is that when we are working, we don’t have a father daughter dynamic at all. We both have past kitchen experience and love to do things efficiently. We don’t cut corners and commit 100%, so we make a great working team. Whilst being family means we are always ready to work overtime and share the burdens or challenges we face, we are also very aware of our individual strengths and weaknesses, so we have an instinct for how to support each other when things get hectic.
It’s taken a little while to accept the inevitable frictions of running a business together, but we never fail to make each other laugh. Being very practical people we always talk directly and honestly to each other. During the working week we are colleagues, best friends and supporters of one another’s work as business partners, but after work is done, we go back to being father and daughter.
“We are enjoying not being caught up in only running a ‘profitable business’ but also making some real friendships.”
How has Covid-19 affected your business model?
Prior to Covid-19 we relied heavily on our wholesalers, restaurants, shops, hotels and banks, and as these have reduced in number, our business-to-consumer deliveries has grown. Whilst this has meant it’s been a big shift for us, the public support has been incredible and we are loving being far more connected to our customers everyday. Following their highs and lows, building strong rapport with interesting people who want to have stimulating conversations about the environment, diet, lifestyle and its impacts. We are enjoying not being caught up in only running a ‘profitable business’ but also making some real friendships.
Are there any particular challenges you encounter running a food business?
I think what we have found the hardest is that it’s just so expensive to be able to really set up the vision of your dreams. We wanted to be a business and social enterprise, to give back as much as we could immediately, but sometimes it’s hard to have to say… “No, wait, we can’t do this yet.” First let’s grow strong roots for the business so we can give back later. We weren’t previously very business minded at all, we enjoy food creation and having a vision, but having a business that runs according to, and because of, numbers falling or rising on a spreadsheet is new to us both.
“We deeply hold the notion that change and compromise in everyone’s day to day living choices is essential to a harmonious collective way of life. One of the most readily available changes we can all make is how we eat and the choosing of outlets we support. ”
How would you like The Arty Vegan to progress over the next 5 years?
Over the next 5 years, we hope to have created an environmentally friendly impactful model for manufacturing a few of our products to be widely distributed across the UK. We hope to have financial room to grow our vision for community based artisanal programmes for those whom are from a disadvantage background, whilst providing affordable high-quality vegan food for everyone.
We are working on an initiative that allows those from vulnerable backgrounds, who have an interest in food, to work with our fully edible waste and make nutrient rich ‘free-food’ for the homeless and others in need. Last Christmas, we provided 1000 Okara burgers to the homeless.
To have a space that can host a range of events, from affordable workshops to high-end supper clubs, would also be a dream. The creation of this hub would allow a food based bridge between all walks of life, bringing community together and celebrating the diversity in people.
How do you see the vegan movement progressing?
We deeply hold the notion that change and compromise in everyone’s day to day living choices is essential to a harmonious collective way of life. One of the most readily available changes we can all make is how we eat and the choosing of outlets we support.
We are thrilled that the vegan movement in London over the last few years has gone from a small group, to a boom of people questioning why they eat what they do and how this impacts our environment.
But, as with all movements, when picked apart, it is important to see who and what is currently driving these changes. Currently veganism is trendy, and although this is helping push veganism to the front of the stage, there is also a shallow ethos behind some selling, seen as an exclusive expensive luxury in gentrified supermarkets. This narrow philosophical pitch could rise to more separation than collectiveness.
Ideally, we hope that people will start to think of the sustainability of their base ingredients in, for example in the cheese industry. Eating unsustainable, unethical vegan foods is something collectively we should try to avoid.
If veganism is about eating better, it must be a comprehensive approach.