In 2019, plant-based food is deeply embedded in the global food landscape, but this wasn’t always the case. Vegetarian and vegan food has been subject to scepticism and prejudice for decades, and only recently have the masses started warming up to plant-based alternatives. For Greenway, one of Belgium’s first plant-based restaurant chains, the mission to open up people’s hearts - and stomachs - to vegetable-based food began already 22 years ago.
Paul Florizoone, Greenway’s founder, first got acquainted with vegetarian food when he was on holiday in India more than two decades ago. And while he had always enjoyed eating meat, he was quickly taken with “veggie life”. That’s how the idea to set up a restaurant focusing on plant-based food was born.
Back in Belgium, Paul opened the very first Greenway restaurant in Ghent, using the tagline “Plant-based for meat lovers”. “From the beginning, we’ve always tried to target a broad audience,” Paul explains. “Especially in the early days, people had a lot of prejudices about vegetarians - that they’re carnivore-hating, tye-dye wearing do-gooders, for instance. We didn’t want the stigmas that came with the vegetarian lifestyle at that time, so we kept our tagline simple to cater to everyone, meat-eaters and flexitarians included.”
According to Paul, the turning point came 5 to 6 years ago: “People started believing that vegetarian dishes can be tasty, even if only to complement their regular diet. Supported by the media, consumers began to realize that our eating patterns have a large impact on the environment and our climate. And today, sustainability, plant-based diets and local sourcing are topics that are omnipresent - a change in people’s attitudes which we at Greenway have witnessed first-hand!”
Following its first location in Ghent, Greenway opened 3 additional restaurants in Leuven, Brussels and Antwerp. “Our restaurants are our way to permanently stay in touch with our customers,” Paul says. “We can easily experiment with new dishes and get immediate customer feedback. You might even say it’s a co-creation concept at this point. When we test new products in our restaurants, we can roll them out to our other points of sale when they have been well received.”
But the Greenway restaurants were only the beginning: the chain also developed a unique range of veggie products that’s sold in Belgian supermarkets, where customers can choose from plant-based minced meat, sausages, burgers, kebabs and much more.
The veggie pioneer then moved on to enter the food service market, creating offerings for large-scale kitchens that prepare food in hospitals, schools and governmental institutions.
Finally, Greenway also expanded its operations to summer festivals, where its colorful food trucks quickly converted thousands of festival visitors of all cultures and ages.
Throughout the years, Greenway has been securing smart partnerships with some of Belgium’s most well-known brands. “Our plant-based offer is on the menu of Poule & Poulette, Ellis Gourmet Burger, Bavet, Balls & Glory and Pizza Hut,” confirms Paul.
“Vegetarian and vegan dishes are now an integral part of our everyday lives, with an offering that’s become much more diversified and high in quality. Partnering up with big restaurant players like Ellis Gourmet Burger made a lot of sense to us, so we could further enhance our “quality brand” market position. We’re hearing a lot of positive feedback from these B2B partners - more specifically, from their customers. Everyone really appreciates there are healthy, plant-based alternatives to try. We love it, and we really want to invest into these kind of partnerships even more in the future.”
Greenway wants to reach everyone - including the customer at home. “Delivery is the new reality,” agrees Paul. “We already have a creative offer in select stores, in our own restaurants and partner restaurants, in industrial kitchens and at festivals, so why not go all the way and deliver to the customer’s doorstep? Our Ghent branch in particular is delivering a lot already, generating around 20% of our revenue. To roll out delivery in the most efficient way, simplifying our operations was necessary. That’s why we teamed up with Deliverect, who can help us manage delivery so it’s future-proof.”
So what’s next for the “mother of plant-based restaurants in Belgium”? “We’ll keep investing in our product range through all sales channels, pushing our boundaries to create even more delicious vegetarian and vegan food for everyone who’s willing to take the leap! We’re going to tackle the Dutch market in 2020, and who knows what country is next!”
Founder of Greenway, Belgium's veggie pioneer since 1997. Greenway aims to seduce even true meat lovers with surprisingly tasty plant-based products.
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