AN EXPLOSION in sales of vegetarian cookery books means that a bad week for beef has been a good one for English bookshops. Waterstone's has reported a phenomenal 300 per cent increase in the number of vegetarian titles sold since last month, and sales of one title considered to be the "bible" of vegetarian cuisine, The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, have soared by 600 per cent.
Other book sales are nine times more than at Christmas, a time when cookery books do well.
When one bright spark in Waterstone's head office planned a spring promotion of meat-free recipe books last November, he could not have imagined that headlines in March would be warning of the dangers of eating beef.
Across the country, the scare over BSE has prompted anxious consumers seeking alternatives to beef to ask bookshops for advice, and many have reported a huge upsurge of interest in vegetarian and vegan titles.
But it is Waterstone's which has really cashed in on the phenomenon with impeccable timing. Its campaign slogan was hastily changed from the original "Where's the Beef?" to "Enjoy the cream of vegetarian cookbooks at Waterstone's" as interest grew, and stores across England say they have fuelled new interest in the market.
Dave Eckersley, cookery department manager in Leeds, has been inundated. "There's been a lot of interest not only in our promoted titles but in all our vegetarian books," he said.
"People aren't panicked. The mood is one of determination to find an alternative and seek information in the current atmosphere of bluff and indecision."
Sarah Birch, department manager in Manchester, agrees. "In the past couple of weeks we've had to give a lot of advice to customers concerned about meat.
"Normally, those who come in for vegetarian cookbooks know what they want, but we've had loads of people asking us to recommend simple guides. We're thinking of expanding our vegan titles as many people are worried about dairy products too."
BSE has created a stir at Waterstone's in Harrods too, where staff have doubled the shelves of vegetarian books for first-time buyers. General manager Gordon Seabright said: "This promotion couldn't have been better timed; we thought the market was topping out. Now we're selling lots of tried-and- trusted recipes by Rose Elliott and Cranks to customers new to this kind of cooking."
While English branches of Dillons and Books Etc are also seeing higher demand, bookshops north of the border, however, seem little affected. …