A meat-free success story

A completely plant-based butcher’s shop that opened in trendy Islington has proved to be an instant hit with locals and online. Nicol Dynes reports.

In time, Rudy’s Vegan Butcher will become a textbook case of how to be a successful retailer in difficult times. It has ticked all the boxes and followed every rule: give people what they want; choose the right location; make the product fun, interesting and Instagrammable; have a shop but also a good online service; turn the opening into an event so that social media amplifies the buzz and customers queue up.

That’s what happened when Matthew Foster and Ruth ‘Rudy’ Mumma, partners in life and business, opened London’s first vegan shop. They chose 1 November, World Vegan Day, to get the most attention from their target customers. On the day, queues snaked down the street before the shop had even opened and everything in the store sold out within a few hours. The website promised free ‘baycon’ to every online customer on opening day: 100 sales were made in the first 10 minutes and everything was sold out within hours.

They had chosen the right location, in Upper Street in trendy Islington, and had caught people’s attention by making the store look and sound like a traditional butcher’s shop, but without the meat. The products on sale are all plant-based, but deliberately made to sound, look and taste like much-loved staples of carnivores. 

You can buy pulled pork and ‘soysage’, meatballs and ‘chick’n’lover’ paté, ribs and burgers. The charcuterie selection includes vegan smoked ham, salami de Provence, pepperoni and pastrami. You can even buy a turkey roll for Christmas and stock up on all the ingredients for an English breakfast, with plant-based versions of bacon and eggs, sausage and black pudding.

Plant-based diet

Foster trained as a chef but did not turn vegan until later in his career. Killing animals and eating meat “just didn’t seem right anymore”, he says. “We can survive and thrive far better on a plant-based diet.” Everything in the shop is made from seitan (made from vital wheat gluten), soya and other plants.

“People understand what it is we’re selling,” adds Foster. “It’s all designed to emulate meat. It tastes like meat and it’s got meat-like texture.” 

‘People understand what it is we’re selling. It’s all designed to emulate meat. It tastes like meat and it’s got meat-like texture.’

Matthew Foster,
Rudy’s Vegan Butcher

Most of all, Rudy’s Vegan Butcher gives people what they wanted: vegan food. Demand is soaring in Britain. Only 1% of the population is fully-fledged vegan, but many more are aiming to cut out animal products for health, environmental or ethical reasons. Dubbed ‘flexitarians’ they crave variety of choice, innovation and fun in their food. 

Sales of plant-based food rose by 40% between 2014 and 2019 to more than £816m, according to Mintel research data, and they are expected to grow to more than £1.1bn by 2024. In 2019, almost a quarter of all new UK food product launches were labelled as vegan, a 128% rise in new vegan trademarks.  

Foster and Mumma were not new to the game: in 2018 the couple had opened Rudy’s Dirty Diner, an American-style vegan fast-food restaurant in Camden Market that has made a success of selling what Foster describes as “veganised versions of classic American junk food”, such as vegan giant hot dogs, plant-based burgers with fries and non-dairy milkshakes. Long before lockdown, they had started selling DIY kits delivered to people’s homes so they could make their vegan fast food meals in their kitchen.