Mum with passion for plant-based gourmet fare starts North Herts business
- Credit: Archant
A foodie mum-of-two has launched Gourmet Alternative – an online plant-based cheese shop and deli delivering to North Herts.
Vegetarian-turned-vegan Suellen Morris, from Baldock, started the business in early 2020 with her husband Nick and business partner Ivona – to bring high-quality vegan cheese, charcuterie, sweet treats and more to people in North Herts and beyond.
She said: “We started off going to some markets and testing the waters and I was thinking strategically about where we needed to be. Then lockdown happened and it forced us to start up a website. I knuckled down and got the website built and learnt really quickly.
“Having the website up and running was our saving grace – as without it we couldn’t have continued trading. We don’t have a shop at the moment – this is about trying things out and learning, I don’t have access to big research facility so it’s about growing that awareness and seeing what people are talking about in terms of their vegan eating.
“We started with the cheeses, and they’re at the heart of what we’re doing – as we know cheese is one of the biggest barriers to vegan lifestyle.”
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Suellen’s background is in marketing and she and her husband Nick have always worked in the food and hospitality industry.
They previously ran a pub in the south west and a pop-up restaurant in Baldock, The Barley Club, where they served up a five-course vegan tasting menu as well as non-vegan food.
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She said: “I know the only way I can stop eating certain things is if I can find an effective replacement. Of course, there are the benefits to heath, and I am hugely passionate about animal welfare – but I am human, and I have children and life is busy so plant-based eating has to be accessible. If I felt like that, it struck me that others would feel the same – it’s the whole foodie experience that you shouldn’t miss out on.”
Suellen and Nick have two children aged four and two and regularly attended markets in Royston and Bedford to sell their items – they are also exploring the possibility of selling at St Albans and have attended Hitchin Farmers’ Market.
The cheese enthusiast continued: “Talking to people and going to the markets are brilliant for finding new things – it’s what’s known in marketing as ‘social listening.’
“The lockdown has meant we haven’t been able to have that human contact but there are big groups on Facebook dedicated to veganism.
“Fudge is a big thing at the moment, as is chocolate. The filter I try and put new items through is ‘is this a treat? Is it something to give as a gift?’
“I’d like to think that if people want to treat themselves and want to indulge they they’d look to us – the supermarkets are already doing your everyday items.”
Gourmet Alternative’s artisan stock is picked from producers nationwide and includes cheeses – like Shamembert by Honestly Tasty, New Roots ricotta and the nut-free garlic or chilli-infused sourpress by Herbie’s Homemade. There are also charcuterie, pies, pates, chutneys, sweet treats, wine and more.
“Lockdown has given me more time to consider what we are doing for the world, I’d love to think that people would shop differently and shop more locally as a result of this,” said Suellen.
“I would like to think that people would consider what they are putting in their bodies and the effect it has on health.”
Suellen, who grew up in Letchworth, said food is a huge part of her world and the joy she finds in the venture is for people to still be able to enjoy great fare.
She said: “It’s really nice when someone finds you and tries something and says that’s really good. There is something really nice about giving someone that experience that they maybe felt they weren’t going to have again because they have made that decision to go vegan. It’s a brilliant decision, but you don’t have to miss out on having good food.”
As well as continuing to sell at markets and online, Suellen is hoping to get a network of businesses together – all with a passion for plant-based eating.
For more on Gourmet Alternative, go to https://www.gourmetalternative.co.uk/
They deliver free in Herts to Baldock, Hitchin, Knebworth, Letchworth, Royston and Stevenage and over the Beds border in Arlesey, Biggleswade, Henlow and Stotfold. Delivery is £7.50 further afield.
• What did I make of Gourmet Alternative’s selection?
Good non-dairy cheese can be difficult to find – it seems many rely on the same base ingredients barely reminiscent of cheese, then flavoured slightly differently to mimic cheddar, mozzerella and others in between.
Gourmet Alternative’s selection stood apart, time and effort had gone in to make each item remarkably like their dairy counterpart.
The Cashew Bleu was a revelation – soft and creamy – and the Veganzola tasted fresh yet strong. The Shamembert became wonderfully soft and gooey when heated – as did the New Moon Brie, which was marvellous in a toasted sandwich with their flavourful chilli paste. The Ethopian Spice had a dark, warming crust, the Schmokin Cascheese was deep and rich, and the wheat-based garlic sourpress had a pleasing mouthfeel. All were next-level to any plant-based cheese I’ve tried before.
If the stuffed vine leaves are anything to go by, the deli items are a must.
And finally, do try their garlic butter – great with mushrooms on toast!