With alternative diets skyrocketing among cosmo-progressive Berliners, corporate dropout Jan Bredack managed to seize onto a trend by launching Europe’s first vegan supermarket chain.
Staring at the mindboggling display of milk-free cheeses (nut or soya?) and meat-free sausages (tofu or seitan?) on the shelves in Veganz, it’s hard to believe that less than a decade ago Berlin’s vegan population had close to no other shopping option but the fruit and veg section of their local supermarket. In restaurants, they’d have to order ‘vegetable soup’ made with chicken broth. A few years ago, this all began to change. Berlin’s successful organic chains paved the way. And in 2011, Jan Bredack brought Germany (and Europe) its first animal-product-free supermarket.
It all started as one man’s mid-life crisis. Bredack’s 20-year career at Mercedes and his marriage drew to an end following a burnout as he neared 40. Converted to vegetarianism and a healthier lifestyle by his new life partner, the native East Berliner decided to make the transition to veganism five years ago. “I don’t want to eat animals or other creatures, that’s the main reason… I also thought about nutrition.” In 2009, spurred by the poor availability of vegan products in Berlin, Bredack began plans for what would become the first Veganz supermarket.
After two and a half years of network building and product sourcing, Bredack opened Veganz on his home turf, Prenzlauer Berg. By then, veganism in Berlin had become endemic – especially among conscientious, boho Prenzlauer Bergers. With 400 customers per day, the shop’s success exceeded all expectations. In March 2013, following a Frankfurt branch, Bredack opened his second Berlin location in Friedrichshain’s Warschauer Straße.
He attributes Berlin’s ever-increasing hunger for vegan to the large student population, the growing international community (American expats make up a large portion of Veganz’ customer base) and the open-mindedness of the city, but he points out that interest in veganism is exploding everywhere. “Every week we have people asking us to come to their city.”
Bredack boasts over 270 suppliers in 30 countries, with many American products like ‘ice cream’ sandwiches and San Francisco powdered chai. The supply is helped along by a team of three people around the world who keep an eye out for new products. “It’s not an easy job,” says Bredack, who spends a lot of time travelling around Germany and Europe networking with businesses and vegan communities while laying the groundwork for new shops. Veganz currently has nine locations throughout Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, with plans to open 12 more by the end of 2016. Bredack’s vegan empire marches onwards.
Originally published in issue #117, June 2013. Updated in January 2015.