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Vegan, Vegetarian Restaurants Downplay Their “V” Signs For Higher Sales

Vegetarian, vegan and semi-vegetarian—how popular and well-accepted are these ideas these days? Restaurants across the country now comprehend how much, as they realize the words’ effects on their consumers.

Vegan bakeshop BabyCakes NYC opened a small location in Disney World and realized that honesty did not do them good at all. They gave emphasis on their being “vegan,” highlighting their egg-free and dairy-free goodies and later realized these did not appeal to the Disney vacationers at all.

“The idea was more repelling to them,” said Erin McKenna, owner of BabyCakes NYC. “They just didn’t want to come in.”

In Santa Monica, Calif., Ann Gentry started to operate Real Daily Food twenty years ago and promoted their dishes as “organic vegetarian dishes” in their menu and quality menu cardholders–downplaying the fact that the offerings are actually vegan.

“We never really used the word ‘vegan’,” said Gentry. “We opened a second location five years after that, and we boldly displayed ‘vegan organic cuisine.’ Since our customers have already gotten used to the idea, the move didn’t seem to change anything.”

For those who have yet to get acquainted with these concepts, vegetarians refer to those who do not eat pork, beef, fish, poultry, shellfish or animal flesh of any kind, but do eat eggs and dairy products. Vegans do not eat any kind of meat, as well as eggs, dairy products or any processed foods that contain animal-derived ingredients.

BabyCakes NYC made their “v” sign a bit smaller and pretty soon walk-in customers came marching in, taking-out with them their delicious purchases of agave-sweetened vanilla cupcakes topped with rich lemon frosting and mouth-watering chocolate pies, not knowing that these were made without butter, eggs and milk.

McKenna did the same when she unlocked another satellite bakeshop in New York in 2005—she allowed the desserts, not the vegan declaration, speak the message. “Our customers did not write us off automatically and just simply walked right in. I was certain of how great my stuff was once they get to taste it,” said McKenna.

True enough, vegan bakeries and restaurants are now increasingly successful by downplaying the fact that they do not use all these ingredients in their offerings, as reflected in their menus and menu card holders. “What matters to consumers is still the taste—it doesn’t matter to them if the cake or the meatloaf is vegan or not,” said The NPD Group’s Harry Balzer.

Although these establishments already have a vegan and vegetarian following, restaurants realize that being able to tap the general market could prove beneficial to their overall sales. And vegans/vegetarians do not mind the shift at all.

“I don’t really mind if businesses try to sell their food to others, too,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). “They are trying to tap the ultra-conservatives who are not open to idea of eating anything that they aren’t used to, and that’s fine.”