There is no manual for how to run a (vegan) business. That’s why it’s important to take help when it’s offered.

Running a business is HARD. While there are certainly some amazing benefits to running a business, like flexibility and making more impact with your passion, there’s no guarantee of success.

I’ve seen a fair share of business closures this past year. In Canada, CEBA loans from the pandemic were due January 19. If businesses didn’t pay the loan in full, they either face higher interest rates or they might just choose to close. And that means one less vegan business thriving in a mostly non-vegan world. One vegan restaurant in Vancouver already announced its closure a few weeks ago.

While I may not have all the answers, here are 5 tips I’ve been thinking about in the last few months that might help some folks to get and stay ahead if they’re just launching, or pivot if you’re already running a business.

Don’t trust a marketer? This convo between Elysabeth Alfano and Sonalie Figueira on The Plantbased Business Hour about our global food system this past year and predictions for this year is really good.


1. Offer an animal-free alternative that isn’t already available in your area.

I firmly believe that we will not build a vegan world without animal substitutes, or (the industry jargon term) alternative proteins. Lab-grown meat is still years away, and ask most of my friends and family and they will say they’d like to be vegan, but they just don’t know what to eat besides meat/seafood/eggs/dairy, and are worried whole, plant-based foods like beans, lentils, tofu, other soy products, etc. won’t taste as good.

Prices of alternatives are also still not low enough to compete on that level.

That’s where your alternatives come in. Yes, they’re processed. Yes, they’re not as healthy. But they’re still healthier than animal products, especially processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, bacon, salami, and other deli meats which have been classified as carcinogenic by WHO. People are willing to pay more for healthy products (see #3 for more on that).

If you live in a major city, you won’t have issues finding alternatives. And although ecommerce companies like Vegan Essentials and its parent company PlantX or GTFO It’s Vegan can deliver pretty much anywhere in the continent (heck, Vegan Supply delivers worldwide), some folks in rural areas might not like those extra shipping costs or even the idea of buying from a company that isn’t locally-owned.

That’s why I believe we need to have local companies producing plant-based alternatives everywhere in the world. I am amazed when yet another burger patty company emerges in Vancouver, thinking they can do it better than Beyond Meat or (already existing) TMRW Foods.

I’ve been on a LinkedIn connection rampage lately and happened to have located a few vegan product developers. Contact Tanya Mireault in Canada and Laura Crotty in the US.

I think every country needs to have a major player in the industry as a model. The US has Beyond Meat & Tofurky, the UK has VFC (now Vegan Food Group) among others, and Chile has NotCo.

We’re yet to have one in Canada, but I think Big Mountain Foods will get there, and possibly also TMRW Foods. The Very Good Butchers was a player but lost the chance after it went public. BMF has not only offered what most US brands have but also created innovative alts you can’t find anywhere else, like Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble and Soy-Free Tofu (yes, people are allergic to soy and also need options).

These are the food items we need veganized and available in every cityif it already exists, don’t replicate the business and focus on something that ISN’T yet available. Then you can say you’re “the only” and “the first” in your city. See how that marketing works? (In my perfect world, one company would master one category and then license the right for other companies to use the same formulation…but we don’t live in my utopia.)

  • Burger patties
  • Steak
  • Beef grounds/crumble
  • Meatballs
  • Chicken patties, nuggets, wings, and fried chicken
  • Pulled pork or pork pieces/chops
  • Bacon and other sliced meat
  • Hot dogs/sausages
  • Lamb
  • Fish filets
  • Tuna, salmon, eel, catfish, shrimp/prawn, scallops, oysters, caviar, octopus, squid, sea urchin
  • Scrambled and sunny-side up eggs
  • Milk, cream, coffee creamer
  • Ice cream & yogurt
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Mayonnaise, sour cream, and salad dressings
  • Fois gras
  • Pasta and noodles
  • Chocolate
  • Candy
  • Beer/wine
  • Honey
  • Jelly
  • Baked goods: Cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries, donuts, naan bread, etc.

If you produce a refrigerated or frozen product, know that your retail price needs to be even higher because there are often extra fees with refrigeration. This can (and has) stopped some amazing alternatives from being readily available. If your price is higher than the animal counterpart, explain to your customers why and push the health & sustainability angles (see #3 below and last week’s blog about Juicy Marbles’ launch in Canada.)

Food not your jam? Then look at what’s out there for clothing, beauty/cosmetics, and other products that aren’t readily available vegan in your area. This blog post should give you some ideas on all the other products we use animals for.


2. Rethink a brick and mortar business.

I hate to say it, but simply because of the amount of commercial rent you have to pay for space, reconsider a business in a physical location, like a restaurant, cafe, store, salon, or spa. If you are new to business, your rent (or lease) is going to be one of (if not) your biggest expenses, and if you’re not bringing in a lot of revenue right away, you won’t last long.

During the pandemic, many restaurants had to close because of government orders and plenty pivoted to cater to home delivery, but you have to pay those delivery platforms, and I’m going to guess you aren’t earning nearly as much as you would with diners eating in (although you would save on paying servers). It’s just not the same receiving a $30+ entree in a plastic or compostable takeout container from a high-end restaurant.

If you believe we won’t have another pandemic soon, think again. Nothing much has changed at all in terms of our interaction with animals, and COVID-19 was considered a category 2 of 5 pandemic, so it was a test run.

If you can sell online or at other events, you can run your business from home (to start) and eventually rent a warehouse before you then choose to find a co-packer or open your own manufacturing facility. This is much safer and cost effective as you have time to prove sales and build up your online community before then making a more serious investment in space, human resources, and equipment as you scale.

In our VEG Networking Canada convo with vegan deli owner Sinead Hammons, she said in terms of trends in her space, restaurants have pivoted to kitchen + delivery only or if they have a space, they’re hosting events and pop-ups on the regular. You can’t just be a restaurant anymore.

I learned from this recent VegNews story about legacy American vegan brands that manufacturing powerhouse Follow Your Heart started out as a cafe, and Miyoko Schinner (formerly of Miyoko’s Creamery) closed a restaurant before demoing plant cheese at events and publishing a cookbook.

If getting in stores is an important part of scaling your business, for the love of God, please form good relationships with your retailers and their staff. That should be #1 in the playbook, and most companies don’t do this. Follow Mid-Day Squares to see how they’ve gone to $10m in annual sales with this strategy (and their content).

If you’re in Vancouver and don’t know how to get distribution, contact Good to Grow Natural Products Coaching and exhibit at their annual From the Ground Up Trade show in May where buyers come to check out what’s on the market.

If you can grow your business to sell outside of your geographical region (city, then state/province, then country), you can then reach out to global media vs brick & mortar companies which are limited only to the physical location. (Unless of course, you like McDonald’s business model, which is buying up real estate.) Many companies that are successful in getting investment on shows like Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank operate this way and it shows they know how to budget.

I had a big realization this year that I can’t really support vegan restaurants, stores, etc. outside Vancouver unless they sell products outside Canada or just want wider brand exposure, because these businesses are limited by geography with marketing, and I don’t have media contacts outside my own city.

If you choose to run a brick and mortar business anyway:

1. Aim for a high traffic area.

This alone should help get people through the door.


2. Have a community ready to rally for you.

You need customers lining up out the door (like at Vancouver’s To Live For Bakery), sharing your online content, and so on. Start spreading the word MONTHS before you launch your business; not when you open the door.

Last year, one local business operated out of a truck and pivoted to opening a brick & mortar location (like many trucks have done successfully before). One of the founders happened to have bought both of my books on public relations and vegan marketing.

When I asked whether they had launched to media, the response was (copied exactly from our convo), “What exactly does that entail?” And when I mentioned that this process was in the book they had—and some of my other resources on media outreach—they said, “I put it on my shelf and just realized now I have not read it :(“

You probably have all the answers you need to be successful, but lack the resources to implement them. Most times, you either need time to do it yourself, or money to hire someone. Make a call.


3. Make sure your business is VISIBLE.

Your business name and what you offer should be on your awning and/or windows. Last month, I visited local vegan ice creamery Say Hello Sweets, which is on a side street in Vancouver’s Chinatown (620 Quebec & Columbia, to be exact). The door was locked, and we had to doorbell to get in, despite the owner posting in our city’s biggest Facebook group for vegans saying that they were struggling and would be open at certain hours.

On the windows, it says “Coffee/Goodies” and “Ice Cream/100% plant-based,” but the name of the business was nowhere to be found.

They have a big white awning with nothing on it; wasted space (are they not allowed to use it?). Across the street, there were kids paying soccer and I thought this was a lost opportunity to be the go-to place for ice cream in the area.

Perhaps they get better foot traffic in the summer, but like I said, they’re on a side street, not on Main or on a corner where they’re visible to foot traffic. (I do want to say this company offers some of the best vegan ice cream in the city and I believe is also vegan-owned, so even though its price point is high, the quality is worth it.)

Update: 11 days after posting this blog, the owner announced it was closing its doors.

Don’t open a physical location, but if you must, know what you’re doing to get people in the door.


3. Incorporate marketing data

So while there’s no manual that will guarantee business success, there’s TONS of marketing information out there. Books, online media, courses, influencers and other industry leaders you can consume and follow. green queen just put out this fab FREE report, “5 Success Fundamentals from TiNDLE Foods’ Rocketship Journey.” (Canadians: PLEASE download, study, and integrate it.)

In Vancouver, even if you have written a book about marketing (?‍♀️) and one that specializes in vegan marketing (?‍♀️), people are hesitant to listen to you and just want to do their own thing.

I get that. You know your business more than anyone else. But there’s so much more info I could have put into my 2022 book that I could have added (and I continue to talk about in podcasts). Marketing is forever changing. So that means you cannot just open a business and expect customers to show up. Marketing goes hand in hand with opening a business and making sales. It’s why there are at least 2–3 courses in Vegan Business Tribe on this topic.

What I was really pleased about in 2023 is that there was TONS of marketing data available to vegan businesses. And when I shared just one of these articles in the Slack group at Vegan Business Tribe, I was met with a lot of resistance, particularly around data showing that not having the word “vegan” on CPG (consumer packaged goods) products resulted in higher sales.

Again, I GET IT. We WANT a more vegan world, and yet omnivores will only buy our products if it has something other than that word on the front of the packages (Boston Consulting Group’s analysis of over 100 behavioural studies found the preference was “animal free” or “100% plant-based”).

If you’re a vegan business owner, that dilemma is for you to think about and decide on. Here’s the graphic summary of a study alt-protein think tank Good Food Institute shared in 2019:

I can’t tell people what to do in their business. If you want to hire me as a consultant, I’ll study your biz and make suggestions, but ultimately it’s up to you to take in the data that’s out there that tells you what customers want, and act on it. I don’t think there’s any one right way, but the articles that have come up in the last few months are pretty unanimous. I’ll just leave those here:

A couple other exclusive resources include:

What I find interesting about the omnivore restaurants in Vancouver is that some have offered vegan menus in the past (love), but then removed them and instead put what I assume are the bestselling vegan items on the regular menu with proper labels. You can offer all the vegan things you want, but if they don’t sell, they won’t make it; people will continue to shove good-tasting dead animal products in their mouths.

If you are launching or running a vegan business this year, you NEED to master marketing.


4. Amplify your personal influence

Tell me the last female CEO of colour who impacted you. If you can’t name one, that’s a problem. And it’s not your fault.

The world has glorified white CEOs for millennia. Gates, Jobs, Musk, Zuckerberg, and Bezos have long dominated headlines. But here’s what it shows: people want to know who’s behind the most successful businesses.

It’s not rocket science. If you’re an introvert, hi! Me too! Nothing would bring me more pleasure than making six figures in my pajamas from home. But we live in a world of visibility (blame Zuckerberg and whoever invented YouTube and TikTok). If you want your company to succeed, your leader must be visible.

And it’s not hard to do. If you or your superior have a smartphone, you already have all you need. Videos are ideal (people like to see us talk), but photos are a good place to start if you’re not used to being visible.

When I launched my first business’s YouTube channel in 2013, I started talking to my laptop, practicing speaking about the things I know. I’m now pretty comfortable speaking on video podcasts and at events. Live TV still makes me nervous (and that’s super normal), but it means if I can learn to be a public speaker, so can you.

Slutty Vegan‘s Pinky Cole is someone I admire and would love to meet. Once a producer for The Maury Povich Show, she’s used that role to benefit her current business. This is why YOU NEVER BURN BRIDGES with business relationships. You never know when that past career’s going to come into play.

Cole’s called herself a marketing genius, and she’s not wrong. Slutty Vegan has opened 11 locations in five years, plus Bar Vegan in Atlanta. She’s also launched two books and this past year, got married and gave birth to her third child. It’s not a contest for who can do the most in less time, but I’m just saying she’s made sh*t happen in her business, and she’s made moves in her personal life too.

Cole was named on TIME’s 100 Next list last year. This interview she gave at the event with Page Six is marketing GOLD. Bookmark it.

In Vancouver, we glorify the starving entrepreneur, and that needs to change. We need to start working smarter like Cole, not harder and amassing debt just so we can say we tried.

I can’t tell you how many companies either have no LinkedIn presence or the founder is barely visible at all there. If you run a business, you need to be on LinkedIn.

Just a few other minority vegan business leaders I look up to include Tabitha Brown, Dr. Matthew Nagra, Jennifer Stojkovic, Irina Gerry, and Miyoko Schinner.

Be visible, and you’ll get a lot farther in your business.


5. Ask for help

Most people in business will say they have someone or a group to turn to for business support, whether a coach, mentor, mastermind group, or networking group. If you don’t, your network isn’t big enough.

One of my volunteer roles is co-hosting VEG Networking Canada, where we interview either an incoming member (all members must vegan and living in Canada, or working for a Canadian company) or special guest who works for a plant-forward (usually vegan) company. The goal of these interviews is to normalizing veganism in business and also learn about the person’s business journey and tips/wisdom they want to share.

Since coming into this role in 2021, I’ve amassed a long list of potential guests and members, and every time I am surprised when a guest turns down the opportunity to be interviewed because they are “too busy.” Too busy to come and share about their business for an hour and shared on YouTube FOR FREE.

I get the too busy part, but this is FREE MARKETING. People turn it down, and then I learn later how much they are in debt or struggling or that they have closed. Friends, you cannot accept free marketing offers after your business has closed. Do not wait until it’s too late!

Currently, Vegan Business Tribe is the only networking organization I pay for, and it includes coaching sessions if you need them. We do not charge at VEG Networking Canada, and I regularly attend online networking events put on by The Forum and other in-person events that sound up my alley. I’m also in both The Forum west coast and another spiritually-focused business group on WhatsApp.

I say all that to say I have a lot of support around me. These are the folks I go to for help and also to provide my expertise or contacts if folks need them. There are also tons of Facebook groups for vegan companies, women in business, etc. I have a list of the groups for vegan businesses here. Find the ones that resonate with your biz.

What I love is that successful folks in business like Margaret Coons (Nuts for Cheese), Jake Karls (Mid-Day Squares), and Mike Fata (serial entrepreneur) have been sharing their business journeys on LinkedIn and who has helped them build their empires.

No one makes it alone. Don’t be that a$$hole who thinks they can build an empire on their own wits. If you feel alone in your business, contact me and tell me the support you are looking for.

After writing this blog, I’m convinced we need a vegan business accelerator or incubator in Canada. The US, Europe, Israel, and Asia are all making huge strides in this industry, and Canada will be left behind (or left to sell foreign products) unless we invest in our own. We don’t have many vegan investors here, but we’ve got some great vegan companies already scaling into the US.

I believe knowledge sharing and collaborating to create collective success is something we could succeed in (maybe even model for other countries) if we can get significant investments in Canadian founders and teams creating important innovations.


Need to take marketing off your plate so you can focus on other aspects of your business? Read more about my services here and contact me if you’re ready to begin!

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