At the forefront of the vegan revolution in Israel, Omri Paz, the founder of Vegan Friendly, has now set his sights on bringing his model to the United States market.
Vegan Friendly, a self-sustaining nonprofit founded in 2012 to promote veganism and animal rights and improve access to plant-based food, is planning to expand its activities to the US after launching in the United Kingdom about two and a half years ago.
“What makes us unique that we have created a huge ecosystem that gives businesses and restaurants benefits, much more than just the labeling or certification of being vegan friendly,” Paz told The Times of Israel. “With us, they can participate in our events, and we can connect them to thousands of our members through exposure on social media, our app and the website.”
In Israel, which hosts the world’s highest per capita vegan population, 1,800 businesses including restaurants and hotels are certified with the pink and green Vegan Friendly heart sticker. Over 500 food manufacturers such as Unilever, Nestle, and Strauss use the Vegan Friendly seal to label over 10,000 plant-based products certifying that they meet strict criteria.
Additionally, Vegan Friendly has built a community of over 6,000 people in Israel who donate a monthly sum toward the organization’s attempts to raise awareness and encourage veganism or vegetarianism, Paz said. Together with the Tel Aviv Municipality, Vegan Friendly this year hosted a three-day Vegan Fest touted as the world’s largest vegan event, with cooking classes, food stands, food-tech and health stalls.
“From the businesses who sign up with us we get discounts or products to try out, which our members can enjoy at hundreds of businesses and restaurants across the country,” said Paz. “Our model gives businesses and restaurants lots of value for certifying and that helps us to promote veganism and make it more accessible.”
With the use of big campaigns involving billboards, YouTube lectures and primetime TV ads, Vegan Friendly seeks to create a dietary change.
“We applied our model to the UK two and a half years ago and today we have a team of almost 10 people with about 200,000 followers on social media, 1,200 businesses or branches certified as being vegan friendly, and over 3,000 products labeled as vegan friendly,” said Paz.
“I don’t think there’s any big organization in the US that is going to focus on dietary change, which is important to us,” he noted.
Vegetarians make up about 5% of the US population. For the US launch, Vegan Friendly went through 50,000 restaurants and businesses and selected about 15,000 that meet the criteria to be certified as vegan friendly. Initially, the nonprofit will be focusing on restaurants located in New York City.
“At the first stage we aim to launch a community through social media, on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, and to get users on our app and the website before we plan to approach restaurants and ask them to be certified as vegan-friendly by adding options to their menu,” said Paz. “We already have 20 businesses that signed with us to be vegan friendly certified businesses.”
Paz disclosed that the first restaurant that received its vegan friendly certification in the US is The Grey Dog, a neighborhood restaurant with five branches spread across Manhattan.
“Two years from now we aim to have about half a million followers and about 5,000 businesses that sign up with us either for the restaurant certification or product certification,” said Paz.
Looking ahead, Vegan Friendly seeks by 2029 to grow to a team of about 160 people generating revenue of $60 million and being completely self-sustainable, according to Paz.