Veganuary is a good time to trial a plant-forward way of eating. One Dubai company wants to help – and you can put the cooking skills acquired during the pandemic to good use, too. The Beet Box delivers meal kits across the UAE with pre-portioned ingredients for small and large families. Everything comes in eco-friendly packaging along with a playlist to cook along to.
'Most of our customers are flexitarians'
“For a lot of our friends, cooking plant-based came down to the same challenges: not knowing where to find seemingly expensive ingredients, how to use them, and how to ensure the balance between wholesome and nutritious without compromising on taste,” says co-founder Aditi Daga. An Indian mum of two who was raised in the UAE, Daga advocates plant-based and zero-waste living, and has a degree in sustainability.
“The Beet Box exists to make plant-based meals more accessible, less intimidating and fun. The transition to vegan cooking isn’t easy. The idea is that you can have a filling, fulfilling meal that isn’t a salad, without missing meat. Our customers aren’t necessarily 100 per cent vegans; most of them are flexitarians just trying to eat fewer animal products, and eat healthier and more sustainably,” she tells The National.
“People like me,” chimes in co-founder Katerina Dixon, a Czech national who has gone from eating meat every day at every meal to eating plant-based meals five days a week. Dixon has also lost three and a half kilos since this switch, though she insists that wasn’t the aim.
The pair teamed up with their friend, New Zealander Dean Murphy, to launch The Beet Box in September. “Ours is a Covid-19 story,” says Dixon. “Three friends for over a decade, hoteliers passionate about food who lost their jobs and found themselves around a table debating what the future holds.” Their motivations varied from wanting to see fewer animals go through factory farm production to believing in the health benefits of plant-led diets.
'Vegan curiosity is on the rise'
The Beet Box menus are influenced by the UAE’s multicultural resident mix, and currently cater to 200 customers. Ten new recipes are developed each week, and choices range from cauliflower makhani and Moroccan stew to eggless quiche and kimchi fried rice. Some are plant-focused versions of meatier fare, such as the harvester’s cottage pie that uses mushrooms, celery, lentils and thyme; and burgers, packed with everything from lentils to quinoa. Each recipe comes with a Spotify code that launches a curated playlist, so you can “cook to the Beet”.
Customers can order two meals or more for next-day delivery across the UAE, with a two-serving package priced at Dh160 for two recipes. There is no commitment to a minimum subscription. Kits are portion-sized, so there’s no waste and ingredients stay fresh up to four days, in part because the vegetables aren’t pre-cut.
“You make your own plant-powered cheese, and we create versions of your favourite dishes with whole and healthy foods,” says Daga. “Vegan curiosity is on the rise worldwide, and the UAE is no exception. We see a higher balance on grocery aisles and restaurants, and social community groups dedicated to discovering new options. Plant-based eating is no longer a trend; it’s the only way to eat sustainably.”
Global interest in vegan diets has doubled since 2015, according to Google Trends data, while the number of new vegan products on the market has expanded by 250 per cent since 2010. In parallel, scientists say the only way to reduce the impact of intensive livestock farming and feed an estimated world population of 10 billion by 2050, is to shift towards plant-based diets now. In a key 2018 article for the journal Nature, scientists from 10 countries recommended the flexitarian approach – eating more plant-based meals and cutting meat consumption to a couple of times a week.
The biggest challenges for The Beet Box, Daga says, revolve around sourcing because they want everything they use to be sustainable. The trio spent weeks sourcing biodegradable packaging such as cornstarch cups and eco-cling film.
“We vacuum-pack everything in expensive eco-vacuum bags that dissolve in water in 28 days,” she says. “But there’s only one company in the world making them, so a significant proportion of our costs are on packaging.”
A minimum of 60 per cent of any given meal kit is locally sourced, and the firm strives to use organic produce wherever possible. Ethical issues are also baked into the way The Beet Box operates, Daga says. The company refuses to use palm oil, and you won't find meat substitutes on their menus as Daga says most products contain far too many additives.
Coming up next is a loyalty programme, a foray into retail and menus with calorie counts. Daga says customers are already reporting a drop in blood cholesterol levels after one month of eating vegan meals more often, and she now wants to bring a nutritionist on board. The local sourcing will also eventually extend to those popular Spotify playlists. In November, the team were at the open-mic session in Alserkal Avenue scouting for new talent; and they may eventually decide to include beat boxers.
Three vegan meal plans to try
If you don’t fancy cooking – even with all the prep done for you, you could have a ready-to-eat vegan meal plan delivered to you.
Whether it's vegan, Paleo or just healthy food you're looking for, you can swap between the three with Daintree based in Al Quoz, Dubai. This subscription-based meal plan service has been in business since 2013. Prices begin at Dh150 per day; daintreefood.com
Home-grown snack brand Freakin' Healthy recently launched this sassy new meal service. Root'd offers three 100 per cent vegan options to pick from, including the Weight Management, Balanced Lifestyle, and Detox-Refuel menus. You can book a two-week or monthly plan for five days a week. There's also a consultation with a nutritionist as an extra. Prices from Dh120 per day; freakinhealthy.com/rootd
Menus are customisable to accommodate gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, seafood-free and nut-free options. Pura delivers three meals a day at a time of your convenience, and is aimed at anyone who wants to lose weight or get healthy with options such as the 1,500-calorie plan. Prices from Dh125 per day for a vegan plan; pura.ae