Business

Veg Out digs into Jamaica's vegan market

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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There is a new brand of meatless veggie burgers available in the Jamaican market. Veg Out meatless burgers, which are the creation of a married couple, Chris and Dolly Punjabi in Montego Bay, began distribution in October of 2018. There are three varieties of the burgers currently available which include vegetable, black bean and chickpea.

The couple, who migrated to Jamaica from India 27 years ago, are vegans who abstain from meat products and alcohol. They both ran their own gift-shop business in Montego Bay for more than 17 years but left it behind due to the high operating costs they had to endure in its final years.

The desire for a new business challenge coupled with their healthy lifestyle eventually led to the creation of Veg Out. Dolly Punjabi notes that the difficulty of finding a wide variety of vegetarian products and restaurants in Montego Bay also inspired them in this new direction.

“Why should Jamaica need to import healthy vegetarian foods from outside the island?” she asks. “Vegan products are always hard to find and a lot of the positive response we have received from customers has to do with the fact that Veg Out is a locally produced Jamaican product.”

Her thoughts are echoed by her husband who reveals that in a few short months the veggie burgers are already in a significant number of supermarkets islandwide.

“Veg Out is available in Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville, Portmore, Spanish Town and May Pen ,among other locations,” he states. “We are in major supermarkets around the country such as Progressive, Shoppers Fair, Hi-Lo, General Foods and Sampars.”

A lot of the marketing has taken place on a very personal level with Chris Punjabi targeting groups that embrace a vegan lifestyle. One such group is the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in which many of whose members abstain from eating meat. Punjabi has reached out to Seventh-day Adventist groups introducing the product and providing information on where the burgers can be purchased. He describes the response from church members as very encouraging.

He also handles distribution himself, driving to the different corners of the island where Veg Out is sold. It is an experience that he claims has reinvigorated his enthusiasm for business.

“Travelling around the island and meeting other small entrepreneurs like myself has been both inspirational and humbling,” he explains. “I've met people who leave their homes the night before to deliver their products to supermarkets the next morning in faraway locations around Jamaica. We meet each other at the supermarkets and share our challenges, our stories and offer encouragement to each other.”

Dolly Punjabi is in charge of production which takes place from the couple's home. They currently employ an additional two people to help with the preparation of the burgers. Apart from the main food base of black beans, chickpeas or potatoes there are other ingredients such as carrots, string beans, oats, cumin and Scotch bonnet which add to the overall flavour and texture of the burgers. All ingredients are either locally produced or easily available in local stores and Dolly Punjabi is quick to point out that this is very convenient and makes production easier.

The burgers which are made without any fillers or preservatives are not an attempt to mimic meat. Some burgers attempt to duplicate the taste and texture of meat. These do not. Veg Out burgers have their own clear texture and flavour which is clearly that of the black beans, chickpeas or potatoes, the basis of their three options, and they carry a flavourful and mildly spicy edge.

Another motivation for the couple in this new enterprise is their spirituality. They are both followers of a path called Science of the Soul. They explain that it is not a religion but a way of approaching life. Science of the Soul encourages harmonious living and brotherhood and embraces a healthy lifestyle through a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol, meditation as well as a code of morals and ethics.

As such, Veg Out is an extension of their personal life, practices and beliefs which probably accounts for their energy and enthusiasm despite starting all over again in terms of their vocation and switching from the gift shop business to the food industry.

“I only regret that we didn't start this six or seven years ago,” Chris Punjabi declares happily. “We are so satisfied with what we are doing now that we feel maybe we wasted some time by not doing it earlier.”

Chris and Dolly are not prepared to discuss too much about their future direction with Veg Out. They are taking a step-by-step approach and will only think about expansion after they have properly established the current products in the Jamaican market. So would they consider exporting?

“Right now we are just looking to grow into the business in Jamaica,” he states. “But certainly if the demand continues to increase in the market, then we are prepared to explore additional paths for the growth and development of our project.”


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