Vegan makes green

Vegan massage, all-vegan grocery stores, vegan speed-dating, vegan cheesesteak burritos, vegan festivals. There’s something plant-based for everyone. Arizona is responding to this mushrooming market and making millionaires in the process.

Take vegetarian chef Jason Wyrick. He and his wife, Madelyn Prior, own Glendale-based food delivery service, Vegan Taste. It was a small family business not long ago. Then, it really started to sizzle.

“It’s been a little crazy,” said Wyrick, 45, who’s known for vegetarian Mexican dishes like Tempeh in Mole Amarillo and cheesesteak burritos, and has penned two cookbooks, Vegan Tacos and Vegan Mexico. “The past few years, business has basically doubled every year.”

Vegan Taste went from preparing and delivering 135 meals a week to 1,500 across the state, he said. Now, they’re about to launch four new vegetarian concepts with local celebrity chef and restaurateur Jimmy Carlin: two restaurants, a new food delivery program, and a food truck. Another concept, if it pans out, will be the “biggest vegan project in the world.”

“It’s going to be a real vegan empire,” said Wyrick, who went vegetarian years ago after a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. He lost 100 pounds and reversed the diagnosis.  

His success is a reflection of vegan and produce sales growth outpacing total food and beverage growth. Plant-based food sales went up 8.1 percent in the U.S. last year, reaching more than $3.1 billion, according to research by Nielsen. It reports that alternative cheese sales grew 45 percent. Veggie noodles saw a 115 percent increase.

Creative entrepreneurs like Wyrick are moving chop chop to meet demand. Here are some highlights of the meatless revolution in Arizona:

Veggie Rebellion Arizona’s first all-vegan grocery store opened in February in downtown Glendale.The store has paired with Herbivorous Butcher to offer meat-free meat products. A small store, it stocks 1,500 “unique” items and is expanding selections continually, said owner Sandra McKee who opened the store to provide a niche for west Valley vegetarians who have limited options.

“We are smack dab in the middle of the food desert,” said McKee, who’s seeing 500 to 700 customers a month since opening. “The reality of being a vegan is you have to drive to Phoenix and then go to three or four stores to get everything you need. We want to be that one-stop shop and we’re getting better every week.”

Vegan festivals Vegan festivals are now so frequent, it’s hard to keep track. They often draw thousands.  The Phoenix Vegan Festival sold out its first festival in 2015 with 1,800 attendees. Each year, it gets bigger. This year it’s adding a second day and expecting 7,000 attendees Feb. 23-24. Others coming soon: Vegout! Tucson, Nov. 11; Az Vegan Fest in Peoria, Dec. 22; and Arizona Vegetarian Food Festival, Scottsdale, Feb. 2-3.

Vegan social networking There’s no excuse to be a lonely or unfit vegan. There are dozens of networking groups and sites for vegans statewide. Meetup group Veg Phoenix has 3,712 members. The Phoenix Vegan Dinner Club and Random Events group boasts 1,075 members. Vegan speed dating, singles groups, yoga, fitness and massage are easy to find online.

Scottsdale top vegan city WalletHub ranked Scottsdale 8th in the nation this year for the best places to eat vegan and vegetarian with restaurants like Green, Bubbles Vegan Champagne Bar, True Food Kitchen, Flower Child, and Simon’s Hot Dogs. Analysts measured vegan- and vegetarian-friendliness. Metrics included the cost of groceries and the share of restaurants with vegan options.

Other cities might argue that they have just as many plant-based options. Whether it’s dining, cosmetics, clothing or dog food, vegan is here to stay.

Victoria Harker

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