Bodegas are central to what makes New York… New York. Along with staples like chips, candy, soda, and lotto tickets, bodega sandwiches are as ubiquitous as their cats. They serve classics 24 hours a day and 7 days a week like the chopped cheese or the perfect bacon and egg breakfast sandwich to grab before catching the subway.
However, according to New York, New York-based Plantega, there is a gap between the local independent corner stores and plant-based food manufacturers not only causing a dilemma for your friendly neighborhood vegan but putting a barrier between convenience store regulars and more sustainable eating.
According to Platenga’s founder Nil Zacharias via VegNews, “I think of us as a simple software that you plug into an existing kitchen except that what we provide is an entire menu with some of the best brands in the world and we provide you with all the marketing, the training, the know-how where you can plug Plantega in and, within a day, you’re selling plant-based food.”
Those “best brands” include notable names like Zero Egg, Pleese Cheese, and Prime Roots, which is bringing “first-of-its-kind” mycelium-based meat to the deli counters, and with this trifecta of brands (which is one of many) Plantega makes the classic BEC, SEC, and HEC “better for you, better for the planet, and better for animals,” Zacharias said.
“We’re not trying to gentrify the bodega by opening up a Plantega across the street from your local bodega and stealing all the ideas,” he says. “We’re empowering them.”
Since launching during the pandemic in 2020, Plantega has expanded from eight menu items served across a sprinkling of deli counters to 62 products with a dozen served in bodegas and the first via delivery apps, including Uber Eats, Doordash, and Grubhub.
Plantega began its journey partnering with bigger names like Beyond Meat and Just Egg exclusively, however since, the startup has diversified its partnerships to include jackfruit meat brand Karana, and animal-free cheese maker Vertage Foods, which provides a the paragon of the USA: American cheese, and WayFare Foods which supplies the perfect shmear for Plantega’s loaded cream cheese bagel.
Zacharias says that the company is “very brand forward,” and it’s true as its offerings put a spotlight on suppliers, from chorizo from Abbot’s Butcher as the focal point as the spicy breakfast burrito and breaded chicken from Daring and spiced meatballs from Wicked Kitchen for Plantega’s subs to Good GCatch’s fish for its crispy filet sandwich.
Plantega also provides consumer tastings for these brands, offering valuable insights for startups that are oftentimes based on the other side of the country. For example, Prime Roots is in dozen of restaurants across California, but when it comes to the east coast, Plantega has it covered.
As FootPrint Coalition previously reported, Prime’s koji deli meat sandwiches are selling off across the west coast, but are New Yorkers as excited about the plant-based alternatives?
According to Plantega in 2022 alone, they sold over 102,000 vegan sandwiches, earning more than $900,000 in revenue for local stores. It’s only June and in the first quarter of 2023, the startup has sold 67,000 sandwiches with $700,000 in revenue. At this rate, they will likely more than double sales this year. These sandwiches are typically 20% of what’s reportedly sold at the bodegas, but on weekends, they jump as high as 60%.
That’s huge because when vegetarians produce 59% less greenhouse gas emissions than meat eaters, just replacing a daily meat-forward lunch with a plant-based option a few times a week, can cut the diet-related emissions of a meat-eater to a fraction.
As Zacharias puts it, “Prior to us, there was zero percent that was coming from plant-based food, unless you count maybe a few salads that they sell once in a while.”
Right now, they’re in locations across four NYC boroughs from Manhattan to Jamaica, Queens, after receiving positive responses from the Bronx to Brooklyn in its initial pilot, but the startup has hopes to be in 100 locations and maybe even experiment with test pilots outside of New York and perhaps even a delivery-only model that uses restaurants, universities, and event spaces, as a venue for its onboarded menu.
“Our foundations are set up in NYC but I think the popularity of the food is eventually going to go outside of New York because there is something iconic about a bodega sandwich,” Zacharias said.