MEET GLASGOW'S VEGAN WILLY WONKA
Adele Ralston, also known as the Vegan Burd or Glasgow’s Vegan Willy Wonka (who said you couldn’t get a better version of the Roald Dahl character?) is fast making a name for herself as the go to vegan chocolatier in Scotland. Since setting out on this chocolate filled adventure full of Glaswegian inspired classic chocolate bars, Adele has quit her job in marketing to live the dream. We meet at Gordon St Coffee, one of the coffee shops that stocks her delicious range, greeting me with a “Vegan Burd” badge and an “A Wafer a PB Break” bar, it’s not a bad start to an interview.
We first start to talk about her journey into becoming a vegan chocolatier, it all started back in March of last year at The Flying Duck’s Vegan Fete.
“I’d booked a stall before I really knew what I was going to do. I was just like ‘I might make some sort of chocolate’ I was just going to make peanut butter cups and wee bits and bobs.”
She ended up making what have become one of her biggest sellers,
“I made some rollaz and took them along and they sold out within half an hour, I was like ‘Oh shit! This is a thing!’”
From that first stall, the Vegan Burd range took off to a level Adele couldn’t have imagined. It got to the point where she had to seriously consider quitting her job.
“I physically couldn’t keep up with it, loads of places were ordering and I just went for it. I was doing that, balancing freelance writing, working in Bathgate, living in Glasgow and doing chocolate, it was just too much.”
It wasn’t too long before she took the plunge into being a full-time vegan chocolatier,
“At the end of August I decided to ‘live the dream’ and everyone was like ‘you’re mental, but brave’. I just thought, why not?”
It certainly was a brave decision but it’s clear to see that Adele is driven more by creativity than money.
“Money isn’t a massive motivator for me, I’d rather have an interesting, creative work-life balance, so I just thought, why not? Go for it!”
Since going full-time there’s been an ever growing challenge to keep up with the demand, it’s something she relishes.
“I thought I’d have so much free time, I thought ‘aw I can do a bit of chocolate, do some yoga, hang out, have coffee, laptop away in the afternoon’ but nup it’s just been non-stop. I think the more time I’ve had the more orders I’ve had, but I’m not complaining, it’s not a bad problem to have at all.”
So what was the inspiration behind the Vegan Burd range? Can you come from vegan chocolatier stock? Is that a thing?
“It just happened by accident, just initially from I wanted to eat it, I was like ‘aw I miss this stuff, I wonder if I could make it’ and I tried it out. I think nostalgia is really powerful, it’s not wanky artisan like really fancy pretentious chocolate it’s just some trash you used to like as a kid.”
Adele’s chocolates have captured the imagination of the Glaswegian public, vegans and non-vegans alike. Her products transcend veganism, they’re accessible to everyone and that’s in part due to her personality being associated with the “brand”.
“I think people like it because it’s got a Glaswegian twist on it. It’s just pure bad patter but people like it and it’s probably a joke that they’ve heard before.”
It’s also important to acknowledge the high quality of her hand-crafted products, the Vegan Burd range is part of a new wave of high quality hand-made vegan products made in Glasgow, that are contributing to the growth of vegan food culture in the city.
It’s always interesting to discover how and why people go vegan and the response they’ve had from the people around them since. Adele admits that deciding to go vegan seemed strange to her family and friends and for some it’s still an obscure lifestyle.
“Growing up in Dennistoun, my family were proper old school east-end so when I went vegan they were like ‘What?! That’s really weird.’ Even some of my family are still a bit like, ‘You’re vegan? So, what do you eat?’ and I’m like, ‘Everything!’”
Adele was never a huge meat eater growing up and decided to go vegan for the health benefits, it wasn’t too long after she realised that veganism – in her words - “just made sense” in every aspect.
“The more I learned about it, the more I read about it, it just made sense. The animals, the environment, the cruelty – I think the more you look into it you realise from every point of view it just makes sense.”
Evidently from her branding, Glasgow has had a huge part to play in Vegan Burd, Adele believes it’s a great place to be vegan.
“It’s unbelievable, I mean obviously, I love Mono and Stereo, they’re the main ones but I think it’s so cool that other places are doing interesting stuff like Bloc doing their vegan breakfast. Then you have Rose & Grant’s doing the square sausage, it’s amazing! There’s endless amounts of stuff, there’s certainly no shortage.”
The infinite supply of vegan products is something that Adele enthuses over, vegan cakes being a true passion.
“I mean accidentally vegan stuff actually makes my life, you can just go into Lidl and buy some pineapple tarts and people are like, ‘Oh you can’t eat them’ and I’m like, ‘Aye I can’. I’ve no idea what’s in it because it’s fake cream and oil and junk but it’s vegan so to me that’s a free pass.”
Over the course of our chat, there’s a sense of optimism and passion for the growth in vegan culture in Glasgow, Adele believes that the recent surge in popularity is sustainable.
“I think it’s only going to become more mainstream, I think because it’s more accessible, there are more options.”
With people becoming more aware of the positive impact of following a vegan lifestyle,
“People are realising from health to animal cruelty to the environment that it’s the way forward, especially as the number of options increase, it’s not as hard as you think.”
So where does she see Vegan Burd going, in the context of the expected growth of veganism?
“The dream would be to have a chocolate factory, keep doing my thing, I’m quite happy being independent in Glasgow and having my things in cool quirky places.”
I can already hear the “Vegan Willy Wonka” taglines and quite rightly too, news of a vegan chocolate factory in Glasgow can only be a good thing for all the sweet tooth, chocolate loving experts, we know we’re not short of them in this beautiful city.
So, what does being vegan mean to the Vegan Burd? In true Glaswegian style, Adele’s response is no nonsense, almost poetic.
“Just not being a dick. Being kind and not causing any harm.”
You can find the Vegan Burd Products online here: etsy.com/uk/shop/VeganBurd