We don’t often hear the words salmon and carrot used in the same sentence. But Living Tree Foods, the relatively new vegan retail store in New Westminster, offers a plant-based alternative to smoked salmon that's made with crunchy carrots.
They call it Slammin’ Lox.
In fact, it was this carrot-based 'seafood' that gave Emily Wilson and Kyle McKay the final push to start a business selling vegan products.
Wilson, who became a vegan at the age of nine, had been experimenting with creating vegan products for years. But the idea of turning it into a business didn't take off until 2020 when she had her partner McKay (the duo started dating that year) taste some of her plant-based creations.
“He was shocked at how delicious vegan food could be, and at how incorrect many peoples' preconceived notions are that it is a subpar replacement for animal-based products,” said Wilson.
The Slammin’ Lox especially blew his mind, and played a key role in setting things in motion business-wise .
At that time, Wilson was in her final year at law school and Kyle was working as a corporate lawyer at a top firm. Besides the excitement of showcasing their vegan grub to the world, the pandemic also nudged them to rethink their future plans.
“With our job prospects and more traditional career paths seeming a bit more uncertain, we decided to create something of our own,” said Wilson.
Living Tree Foods started in the midst of the pandemic. They created their products out of a commissary kitchen and sold them online.
It took them two years to launch their own retail store — the one with a bright blue storefront on Royal Avenue.
The space also has a production facility where the duo strive to create creative alternatives to animal-based food, which, as Wilson said "contribute to climate change, health issues, and (of course) animal suffering."
A 2020 study by American Society of Nutrition showed that chronic disease is associated with consumption of animal products. And, a 2021 study published on Nature Food stated that animal-based foods contribute to 57 per cent of greenhouse emissions.
So Wilson and McKay took it upon themselves to break down some of the barriers to eating a plant-based diet, like “lack of great taste, inconvenience, price, and more.”
“So far, our products have mostly focused on the taste barrier - we've created products that are even tastier than their animal derived counterparts, while remaining at a reasonable price point given their premium nature.”
While the positive feedback has been enough validation for the founders, they also recently won Gold in ‘Outstanding New Product’ at the From the Ground Up trade show.
At the store, you can find 10 different varieties of cream cheese. Garlic & Chive Alive (tastes like Boursin), Death by Garlic (garlicky as in the name), Holy Smoked! (tastes like smoked gouda), and Jala-Bueno 'Cheddar' (a cheesy nacho flavour with a bit of heat), are the best-sellers.
The one that took the most effort though is Hot Tropic, said Wilson. The “complex” cheese is sweet (from pineapple and mango), spicy (from cayenne and crushed red pepper), and tangy (from lime juice), with a hint of ginger, paprika and onion.
More recently, the store inventory has expanded to include yogurt, and a chocolate hazelnut spread that, per Wilson, tastes like Nutella. Only, Wilson's product doesn't use oil or refined sugar (maple syrup, maple sugar and/or date sugar is used instead).
Besides creating their own alternatives to non-vegan food, the brand also stocks a curated selection of products from other brands. "We don't see other vegan companies as competition - there's room for everyone," said Wilson.
Living Tree Foods is located at 1025 Royal Ave. The store also stocks its products at New West Farmers Market every Thursday between 3 and 7 p.m. at Tipperary Park. Check out Living Tree Foods website for their market schedule.