Feb 14th, 2018, 03:09 PM

Moo-ving Away From Dairy

By Elizabeth Nguyen Son
Image Credit: Pixabay/Pezibear
How has Paris been adapting to vegans' demands for non-dairy alternatives?

In the last few years, Starbucks has been introducing non-dairy alternatives to milk in their international franchises. What seems like a norm in the United States is a relatively new and progressive change in other countries. Those who frequent the Starbucks on Rue Saint Dominique may have noticed that it has recently started heavily promoting their non-dairy milk alternatives from Alpro and, a quick look at their Instagram page also shows that Seattle-based coffee shop is trying to let French non-dairy consumers such as vegans or lactose intolerant people know that they cater to them now too. While soy milk has been the most common milk substitute in Paris, other kinds of plant milk are slowly becoming more popular as the bio sections of grocery stores are starting to carry to almond, rice, and oat milks from different brands. 


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Marc Grossman created Bob's Juice Bar in 2006 and then expanded with Bob's Catering and Bob's Bake Shop. They now cater the very popular Kitchen and Shakespeare & Co. Cafe. Bob has been offering non-day alternatives "since the beginning as part of our alternative-food/health food offering that is integral to our identity," Grossman affirms. "I think it has been slower because the French are more conservative in their habits and more attached to their culinary traditions of which dairy is an important component. The French also seem to be physically more tolerant of dairy versus, say, Asians or Eastern Europeans. There could be a physical dimension. Nevertheless, veganism in general and non-dairy alternatives are trendy and Parisians are also trend-conscious even if they are less inclined to sudden lifestyle conversions. They like to dabble, go for vegan brunch and then have burgers for dinner; and with the influence of social media like Instagram, trends travel faster and wider."

Ob-La-Di, the most Instagrammable café in Paris according to Instagram, is located in the third arrondissement and named after the Beatles' song. One of the owners of the café, Olivia Elf, explains that Ob-La-Di has offered non-dairy alternatives "since day one" in June 2015. Ob-La-Di's goal was simply to offer delicious food—their fully-vegetarian and vegan-option menu came effortlessly. "People should eat and drink what they themselves feel comfortable with. We do not want to see ourselves as a vegan or vegetarian place. Instead, we are simply a restaurant and coffee shop, serving ethical food that we love. We do not make a big deal out of it since we are all vegans and vegetarians ourselves, it is just so natural to us. I believe that we have never had a customer commenting on the fact that our menu is completely vegetarian, only that our food is delicious. We believe that this is how you change norms and people's perceptions." Her insight on the food and beverage industry leads her to believe we will be able to see more non-dairy substitutes in cafés in the future, but maybe not brasseries. She goes on to observe, "France has a long culinary history compared to the US. French people see a value in conserving their culinary culture and tourists in Paris also expect it to be old-school and conservative, which is why they have previously not demanded any novelty in Paris."


You awake? Photo by @vanessa_vienna

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On the other hand, some have simply offered a supply to the anticipated demand. Zia Paris opened in January 2017 and has been offering homemade almond milk since then.  Justin Kent, the owner of and chef at Zia, admits, "I don't have a particular stance on veganism. I've always worked closely with seasonal produce and often times my dishes can be made vegan if desired. I've worked in vegan restaurants before but it's not how I eat so it's not a focus for us. Although, as our team grows I would love the opportunity to experiment more with vegan dishes and pastries." So when asked why Zia has been offering homemade almond milk from the very start, he responds, "I knew that there would be a demand for dairy alternatives and I wanted to offer something that came from the approach of us making everything in-house. My restaurant career in Paris has been at high-end restaurants where we did everything in our power to accommodate the client. I wanted to be sure that I had an option available for when the request came up." Much like Elf, Kent is uncertain bistros and brasseries will follow the non-dairy trend but "you'll definitely see it in more and more coffee shops", which is reassuring to those who are unable or unwilling to consume dairy.

Overall, it appears as though cafés in Paris have been progressively moving away from dairy through the influence of non-Parisians—Marc Grossman was born and raised in Manhattan, Olivia Elf is from Sweden, and Justin Kent grew up in Santa Fe. However, will bistros and brasseries follow? Only time will tell.