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Monroe entrepreneur cracks the egg-substitute market

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Sales of the Vegg and ancillary products last year topped $130,000 for Rocky Shepheard of
Hamilton Township.
Sales of the Vegg and ancillary products last year topped $130,000 for Rocky Shepheard of Hamilton Township.

It doesn’t deliver the delicate sound of a hard-boiled egg tapped on the edge of a kitchen counter, but an alternative yolk created by a Monroe County entrepreneur could become a sizzling success among vegans, vegetarians and those on a cholesterol-free diet.

So grab the OJ and your favorite skillet-and-omelet recipe from “The Vegg Cookbook” — everything but a carton of eggs — and whip up the Vegg, a vegetable-based yolk substitute that some swear came from a freshly laid egg.

“What inspired me, being a vegan and having no vegan egg options, was to create a product that tasted and would look and feel like a real yolk,” said Rocky Shepheard, who hatched the Vegg in 2011. “I wanted the same rich gooey-ness, aroma and deep golden-orange color of the real thing.”

It’s just four dry ingredients — fortified nutritional yeast; black salt from India, which imparts the sulfury, eggy smell; sodium alginate, a seaweed derivative that delivers the egg-like viscosity; and beta carotene, found naturally in eggs, for color.

Cholesterol free, gluten-free and kosher, the Vegg is high in vitamins A and B12.

Blend a teaspoon of the Vegg with a quarter-cup water, and you have an unctuous, yolky consistency in seconds. Even upon unsealing the 4.5-ounce package ($11.99 retail), there’s an immediate, recognizable smell of eggs.

“Some vegan customers are freaked out and think they’re eating real eggs,” Shepheard said. “I often hear, ‘Dude, are you sure?’ ”

Also motivating the former graphic designer with a biology degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio was his concern for the treatment of mass-produced poultry. It’s a position that helped attract early support for the Vegg from such animal rights organizations as Compassion Over Killing, based in Washington, D.C.

“For all these reasons, I just got inspired to start working in a kitchen backed with about $5,000 of my own money,” said Shepheard of Hamilton Township. “After much trial and error to get the right balance of ingredients, I came up with a product that everyone seems to love.”

With sales last year of $130,000 and a growing domestic market and overseas sales in the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel, including the first Vegg wholesale shipment to Norway in April, Shepheard now uses a packaging company, McCarthy Spice & Blends Inc. in St. Louis, to help with production and shipments.

“I’m not in this to get rich,” he said. “I’m in it to promote veganism and animal welfare.”

It didn’t take long for Earthlight Natural Foods Market in Stroudsburg to start stocking the Vegg.

“We’ve carried Rocky’s product almost since its inception,” said Jennifer Peschel, general manager. “Although it’s a little on the pricey side, those who use it, love it. We have one other egg substitute, but the Vegg outsells it consistently.”

At the Zen Fusion restaurant in Delaware Water Gap, co-owner and chef Nyrvah Richard met Shepheard soon after the Vegg came to market and agreed to try it to help expand the vegetarian side of her menu.

“Now we use the Vegg for making vegan French toast, an egg scramble with vegetables and tofu and in our vegan and gluten-free baked goods,” Richard said. “It’s been a very good experience for us, and we’re happy to share it with customers. They love it, and it allows us to make more items that are gluten free and vegan.”

She said she also likes the Vegg because it’s a locally inspired product and easy to work with in her kitchen.

Shepheard’s favorite way of using the Vegg is in batter for French toast. Second to that is whipping it in a blender and dipping toast in it, much like eggs broken over easy.

Lemon curd, hollandaise sauce and quiche also are among his favorite uses.

“The Vegg Cookbook,” by Shepheard and his girlfriend, Sandy Defino, is available at the store page at www.thevegg.com, along with other products that include a French toast mix, baking mix and instant tofu mix.

The Vegg is a solo operation, and he said he doesn’t have big plans, “for now.”

“I would like to take the product into a broader national market, eventually,” Shepheard said. “The publicity I get in magazines, newspaper, trade publications and through my social media channels will hopefully inspire distributors to pick me up.”

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