Veganuary: how hospitality can ‘do Vegan better’
Veganuary is here again, so we talked to the organisers about the dramatic shift towards plant based diets over the last 12 months and how hospitality operators can ‘do vegan better’ as we move through 2022.
With leading scientists at the United Nations, Oxford University and Harvard all warning that a radical shift in our dietary habits is essential to mitigate climate breakdown, the world is finally listening and changing. Those in hospitality who have been sitting back to see if the trend towards plant-based eating was here to stay should wait no longer.
The Rise in Veganism
The number of vegans in the UK is rising so fast that figures are out of date almost as soon as they are published. In January 2021, more than half a million people took part in the month-long Veganuary challenge, and the charity’s own survey shows that more than forty per cent intend to stay vegan. The equally interesting figure is that almost all participants say they will significantly reduce their intake of animal products in the future. It’s this group – the flexitarians – that is driving change, and hospitality needs to stop asking What do vegans want? and start asking How can we make vegan food that meat-eaters want?
The Growing Flexitarian Market
Kantar estimates that 92 per cent of plant-based meals consumed in the UK in 2018 were eaten by non-vegans, while Nielsen found that 27 per cent of the meat-eating population chooses a plant-based meal over a meat one at least once a week. With the rise in plant-based eating being seen right across the population, the entire food sector is responding.
Retailers are displacing meat products for vegan alternatives throughout their stores, including in the meat aisle. At Deliveroo, orders of plant-based dishes were up 163 per cent on last year. And at one end of the foodservice spectrum, the McPlant has made its debut to great fanfare, while at the other, celebrity chef Matthew Kenney has just opened a vegan restaurant in Selfridges. Arguably, Wagamama is leading the charge with a plethora of crowd-pleasing dishes such as sticky vegan ribs and vegan chicken hirata buns. And so convinced of the importance of sustainability within the food system, and the need to offer “delicious, magical and luxurious” plant-based foods, Claridge’s head chef recently walked when he was blocked from implementing a fully vegan menu at the renowned London hotel.
It’s Time to Innovate
There are elements within foodservice that traditionally saw vegans as troublesome, and any dishes offered sought only to appease, but not necessarily to please. That approach will no longer fly. While vegans may still be in the minority, they are the ones who decide where their party will eat. If there is nothing – or nothing appealing – for them on the menu, the group will simply eat elsewhere. So, for fully vegan groups, the deal-breaking vegan within the group, and for the burgeoning flexitarian market, menus must be transformed to bring the most interesting, innovative and pleasurable dishes into the mainstream.
Not Either / Or
It’s no longer appropriate to ask whether vegans want plant-centric dishes or dishes using meat alternatives. That’s like asking: do our omnivorous customers want meat or fish? The answer is, of course, that they want both, and increasingly those omnivorous customers are wanting plant-based dishes, too.
So, we need to stop thinking about vegan meals as a separate category and start to fully integrate these dishes across the menu. They need to be mixing with the headline acts and made with the same attention to detail. If they appeal to your meat-eating clientele, you are on the right path.
Conduct an audit of the menu. Can small tweaks be made so that existing dishes can become plant-based with minimal fuss and no loss of flavour? Can basics such as pastry, sauces, stocks, breads, and pastas be made vegan by default?
When it comes to increasing the number of plant-based dishes on the menu, desserts are a good place to start as many can be made vegan quite easily, and therefore be made available to all customers.
Start with these easy wins but don’t stop there. Give your chefs free reign to innovate and to push beyond the comfort zone of your established menu.
Guests can spot an afterthought. They know that a risotto hidden at the end of the menu is unlikely to have had the same care and attention given to it as the meat-based dishes higher up. Trust and authenticity are important here, so take these dishes seriously. If you’re proud of them, promote them. If you’re not, don’t offer them.
Adding information to your menu about ingredient provenance and environmental considerations can help convince of your integrity. Staff recommendations are influential and can be added to the menu. (“This is my wife’s favourite dish”, states one Brighton menu.) Educating front-of-house staff is also essential. If they don’t know whether the creamy sauce on a plate is vegan or not, trust will be lost. With social media hosting reviews in real time, there is little space to get this wrong but make these changes with sincere intentions, and attention to flavour, presentation and value, and it will yield dividends.
With focus sharpening on the climate impact of our food, and the upswell of plant-based eating driven by ecological, ethical and health reasons, foodservice must do its bit. If you don’t do it, someone else will. In fact, they already are.
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