The VegCo sauce range
The VegCo sauce range

Live life on the veg with these delicious foods

Having won the Scottish Food & Drink’s Inspirational Young Person Award in 2017, Ellie Sinclair’s Aberdeenshire business VegCø is going from strength to strength.

Whether it’s due to an Instagram revolution driving us to snap perfect pictures of our food, concerns over animal welfare and environmental issues, or simply the desire to shed a couple of pounds, we are without doubt seeing sustainable vegan and vegetarian products shifting from a niche, yoga-buff subculture to a mainstream food trend.

With around one in eight Brits now choosing a veggie diet and many more of us leading eco-friendly lifestyles, Ellie Sinclair’s Aberdeenshire business VegCø seems more relevant than ever before.

After graduating from Robert Gordon University with a degree in Media Studies, Ellie decided to join the family business – Sinclair Agricultural and Recycling Services Ltd. Using an anaerobic generator to break down silage, they generate methane gas which is then converted into electricity.

But Ellie was keen to put her own stamp on things, thus pitched a novel idea to her family – she wanted to build a renewable greenhouse – heated and powered by the electricity – to grow vegetables.

‘Within the first few months, we had built and indoor greenhouse holding around 15 varieties of tomatoes and chillies. There were plants everywhere!

‘Within a matter of weeks, we had fresh produce galore, and we quickly realised that we needed to do something else with it, other than just sell it on fresh. I then decided to venture into something I had never really tried before – cooking! Soon after, I was preparing for my first show – Taste of Grampian 2016.

‘In the beginning, the greenhouse had everything from tomatoes, chillies, peas, herbs, cucumbers, squash…you name it, we had it! It got seriously out of hand! We decided to strip it all back and focus our sights onto two key items – chillies and tomatoes. There is a huge market for tomatoes, especially odd varieties. As for chillies, the market has only increased in recent years.’

As well as selling on beautiful, whole tomatoes, Ellie began concocting a variety of sauces, jams and meat rubs from their home-grown produce in their approved domestic kitchen.

‘As we speak, we have plans being approved to start building a small, purpose-built production facility. It’s really exciting for the business because it will allow us to employ our first couple of employees, as well as develop and expand our product range.’

Ellie was part of a Business Growth Programme run by Opportunity North East and has found that experience invaluable: ‘I have met some wonderful people within the industry with knowledge and insight that I probably would never have reached myself. They have also given me an endless supply of answers to my sometimes pretty stupid questions! But what is really great, even after the programme finished, they are always at the end of the phone if I need anything.’

The VegCo sauce range

Now, after having won several awards including Best Food Stand at Taste of Grampian in 2018 and Scottish Food & Drink’s Inspirational Young Person Award in 2017, it is certain that Ellie has found a niche in the market with VegCø.

‘Our product has a story. Our business has a story. And that sells. It’s a story that people can connect to and that enables the product to become less daunting. That is definitely a huge factor being a small food business. If you’re making products that are a little bit different or quirky, sometimes that give people the feat of trying it. What I really find helps is doing lots of tastings, telling my story endlessly and making the product as accessible to the consumer as possible.’

Ellie’s vibrant branding is a fitting mirror image of her sprightly attitude to her business – one of her biggest assets. ‘Ten years from now, I hope to be on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean – I’m joking! But I really do want to take this business further. Consistency and accessibility are key.’

With big plans for to develop this sustainable business – including the new production facility, more delicious products and an even bigger greenhouse – VegCø’s future is most certainly clean, green and bright.