Stocking up on vegetarian options

04 April, 2008

Q I am gradually increasing the number of organic wines on my shelves. Are vegetarian wines still talked about these days and should I bother with them?

A Vegetarian Week takes place from May 19-25, so it's a topical issue. Although you're right to suggest that organics are more in the spotlight these days, vegetarian wines are still sought after by the estimated 4 million UK residents who avoid animal products in their diets.

Consumers don't always get a helping hand from the labels of the drinks they're buying because alcoholic products are exempt from the ingredients lists that apply to other foodstuffs.

The Vegetarian Society points out that all categories of alcohol can contain animal products.

"Cask-conditioned ales need fining to clear the material (especially the yeast) held in suspension in the liquid," it explains. "This is invariably done by adding isinglass, derived from the swim bladders of certain tropical fish, especially the Chinese sturgeon, which acts as a falling suspension.

"Bottled naturally, conditioned beers will not always have been treated with isinglass. Canned beers and some bottled beers are pasteurised and usually passed through chill filters. However, a considerable number of breweries still use isinglass to clear their pasteurised beers.

"Most of the main brands of cider will have been fined using gelatine.

"With wine, it is again in the fining process that animal -derived ingredients make an appearance. Finings can be isinglass, gelatine, egg albumen, modified casein (from milk), chitin (derived from the shells of crabs or lobsters) or ox blood (rarely used today). But alternatives do exist in the form of bentonite, kieselguhr, kaolin and silica gel or solution. Also, newer methods such as centrifuging and filtering are becoming more popular.

"The majority of organic wines do not use animal -derived finings - but some do.

"Most spirits appear to be acceptable to vegetarians, with the possible exception of malt whisky, some blended whiskies and Spanish brandies, which have been conditioned in casks that previously held sherry and may have been treated with animal -derived finings. Also some imported vodkas may have been passed through a bone charcoal filter."

If all this sounds like a minefield for the veggie-friendly drinks retailer, don't despair: a full list of approved products appears on the society's website,

Q I want to do a survey of my customers to find out what they like and don't like about my shop : the products , opening hours - that kind of thing. Should I expect people to do this for nothing

A How detailed is the survey and how much time are you expecting people to spend giving you their opinions? If it's a simple multiple choice with three or four questions, some forms on the counter won't be too taxing for anybody and you need not feel too guilty about asking your customers to offer you their views. But to make it more likely that people will bother, a Champagne prize draw could generate more interest.

If the survey is more complex and is something that people will have to give up time to complete, you should really consider a discount voucher for every completed form - and perhaps a prize draw on top of that, maybe for a mixed case of wine.

It's worth being generous, because a survey which only attracts a handful of responses - and most of them from people whose views you know anyway - is as good as useless.

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