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01 July 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

This month, we investigate whether caterers are adapting to increased demand for vegan food.

The year started promisingly for vegans with high street pastry shop Greggs introducing a veggie sausage roll and sandwich chain Subway releasing a veggie sub.

A record number of 250,000 people also signed up for Veganuary – an annual campaign that encourages people to try a vegan diet for the month of January.

Hospitality operators and caterers have also been upping their vegan game as demand from consumers – and by extension the workers they serve – puts a premium on offering plant-based food.

Some are ahead of the curve: Lexington Catering launched its vegetarian and vegan ‘Grains & Greens’ range years ago. Vacherin also introduced a range of vegetarian/vegan dishes in 2018 to satisfy customers and lower carbon emissions.

We want to know if a vegan or plant-based offering is becoming important to your provision. Are contract caterers finding it a challenge or too costly to keep up with demands to add vegan selections? We asked you: Is the market asking for greater vegan offerings?

New and exciting concepts

The UK now has an estimated 22 million flexitarians (people who enjoy meat but choose to reduce consumption). Caterers need to ensure that they are catering for what is now a significant proportion of workforces. We’ve been looking at this for a number of years, integrating vegan options into our offerings.

Culinary training has been a key component of our development. Masterclasses for our chefs by Andrew Dargue, chef proprietor of Vanilla Black, is one way we are training our chefs. Chef director Pete Redman continually introduces new vegan recipes and sources new ingredients, which means we’ve been able to introduce cost-effective and varied vegan options into our contracts. 

The beauty of vegan food is that it is often cheaper than meat-based food, giving consumers and clients savings across the board. According to research by the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, a meatless diet has been found to be generally £570 a year cheaper.

Lin Dickens, marketing director, Bartlett Mitchell

Veganism is mainstream

Unlike other food trends, the vegan lifestyle is supported by compelling evidence – it’s healthy, better for the environment and has strong support from animal welfare organisations. As caterers, we can see how this lifestyle has developed and grown from ideas like ‘Meat-free Mondays’ and eating ‘clean’. These kinds of trends will only continue to draw more to a plant-based diet.

Vegan food should be chosen for its incredible culinary potential rather than simply because it’s a plant-based option. We are excited by new approaches to food and hope the vegan movement will not only develop in the kitchen but also improve farming practices and welfare conditions.

James Minton, group development chef at Radish

Climate is changing our diet

Despite the surge of supermarkets and restaurants offering vegan food, the public sector has been slower to respond. Vegans and others seeking plant-based food in places like schools and hospitals are often left hungry and have to rely on family members to access suitable food. This issue is even more pressing due to the Committee on Climate Change’s report recommending the public sector take a lead. 

In order to protect the ever-growing number of UK vegans, while also taking meaningful action to tackle climate change and diet-related public health crises, public sector catering needs to embrace plant-based food by guaranteeing options on all standard menus, as those called for in The Vegan Society’s ‘Catering for Everyone’ campaign.

Mark Banahan, campaigns and policy officer, Vegan Society

Don’t get left behind

Last year, 34 per cent of people in the UK reduced their meat consumption, joining half a million Brits who are already vegan. For many people, reducing their consumption of animal products is driven by concerns over the sustainability of eating meat. Along with elimination of single-use plastic, demand for plant-based meals won’t be a short-lived fad as people become more mindful consumers, and caterers need to find a way to include more plant-based options into their service in response.

We have developed a range of 20 vegan concepts that we’re launching this month as part of our ‘Summer’s Just Ve-Gan!’ range, featuring as much choice as you’d expect to see on a conventional menu. With more plant protein products available at competitive and reasonable price points, our chefs have increasing options available to experiment and innovate with when developing vegan dishes, allowing them to appeal to a wider pool of non-vegans who want meat-free choices that resemble familiar dishes alongside proudly plant-based dishes. Veganism is here to stay, and we all need to jump on the bandwagon or get left behind.

Simon Price, chef director, ISS Food Services

Core goodness

In the past, vegetarian and vegan food often occupied its own service area in the restaurant. Happily, this is now a redundant practice. Instead, and because of its popularity, it’s much easier to weave vegan food into the core offer. There is much more of a prospect of vegan dishes selling, and consequently chefs and kitchen managers are increasingly willing to incorporate these dishes into the menu cycle knowing that they won’t be left with wasted product at the end of service.

Certainly with the increased focus on health and well-being, as well as a drive towards lessening our environmental impact, vegan dishes also play a key role in our ‘Goodness’ programme. In terms of inspiration, we are better served now than ever. Gone are the days of soggy ratatouille as the ‘go to’ vegan option.

Foods from around the globe are now hugely popular. Many of these dishes originate from parts of the world where meat is an expensive luxury, so with a little research, it is now easier than ever to produce a vibrant vegan offer on a daily basis.

Chris Ince, chef director, Atalian Servest  

Holistic retraining

Vegan food is not hard to make, but  requires thought outside of classical chef training. This is a big part of what we do now. Many chefs have struggled in the past with composing interesting, nutritious and balanced meals for vegans. Chefs who are interested in health and fitness are more able to adapt to cooking vegan food.

We now split our main course in two so you can eat it with a meat option or as a vegetarian or vegan meal. This means one dish is effectively three as it can be adapted to customer need.

In the past, vegetarian food used to be much cheaper than meat and dairy options. However, the shift towards a more plant-based diet and heightened awareness of ingredients and their impact on the environment has led to an increase in popularity, meaning prices for meat-free alternatives are more similar to meat dishes.

Candice Webber, head of food & development, Vacherin

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