More than 60,000 people are signed up to Veganuary, so is the the vegan movement becoming a force to be reckoned with? Lin Dickens reports.
06 December 2017 | Lin Dickens
Figures from Google cite a 90 per cent increase in 'vegan' searches. And a recent Mintel study found that a third of respondents are actively choosing to eat less meat. It is clear that veganism is gathering pace and the idea that it is a fad that will pass is no longer plausible.
So what does this mean for caterers? A plant-based diet chimes with the ever-present health and wellness priorities of customers and clients. And it provides opportunities for companies to ensure that their workplace facilities cater for a growing army of meat and dairy-free people. And the reason to do so extends far beyond satisfying a burgeoning appetite for vegan food.
Systematic reviews suggest that those on vegetarian and vegan diets are less likely to be obese and more likely to have healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
A 2010 study by the University of Oxford's department of public health found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke - as well as saving the NHS £1.2 billion each year.
The vegan way
But not all plant-based diets are equal. Research by the Journal of American College of Cardiology found that people who live on vegan diets comprising refined grains, potatoes and sweets had an increased risk of heart disease compared with those on regular diets. Those on healthier vegan diets, following the kind of intake recommended by nutritionists, enjoyed a comparatively lower risk.
Vegetarians and vegans are often found to be more health-conscious in general. They might also drink and smoke less and exercise more than those on other diets so calculating the relative contributions of these influences can be challenging.
In our business we believe that the answer lies in providing balance and choice, as well as information through initiatives such as our DARE (Delicious And Responsible Eating) programme and a recently launched vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free range.DARE arms customers with the tools they need to make informed decisions and the options to cater for all their tastes.
What is good for our customers is good for our clients because a healthy person is a healthy employee. And a healthy workforce cuts absenteeism while increasing productivity and engagement.
A study with employees at Washington, D.C. firm Geico produced eye-opening results.
Participants dropped an average of 10 pounds in weight and lowered their cholesterol by 13 points. They also reported increases in overall productivity and saw improvements in anxiety, depression, fatigue and general health compared with workers at five other Geico locations in the study.
Cost is no barrier
Specialist foods are often deemed to be too expensive and only reserved for those who can afford to be selective. But with vegan food, that doesn't have to be the case.
Menu planning for many chefs was historically based on proteins. Now, through rigorous training offered by our chef director Pete Redman, our chefs look at it the other way around and start with seasonal vegetables. Not only is that when they are at their best and most abundant, it's also when they're at their cheapest.
Delicious and exciting dishes that cater to a vegan diet can be created without the need to buy costly substitute meat ingredients. In fact, a meatless diet has been found to be generally £570 a year cheaper, according to research by the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.
Now, there is a danger of sounding too preachy. There are other studies that say having a meat or dairy-free diet is counterproductive to a healthy lifestyle.
It's vital that we offer customers choice. Ultimately, organisations will see an uplift in productivity if they have more engaged staff. That's why progressive companies will take a close look at their catering to see how it can enhance their core business.
By working closely with suppliers, caterers can make sure they receive the right produce, at the right time, at the right price. Throw in some excellent training for chefs, and you have a great platform to offer more choice to customers and clients.
If providing vegan options gives some employees even 1 per cent uplift in productivity, it could make all the difference in an increasingly competitive commercial environment.
Lin Dickens is vegetarian marketing director at caterer Bartlett Mitchell