Jan 07, 2019 editor

Veganuary's 2019 campaign launched with a call on Parliament to 'Try Vegan' this January'! Operators could be losing money by not catering for this growing group.

Evidence of the environmental impact of meat farming is mounting, with farm animals a significant driver of greenhouse gas emissions and a drain on water  supplies, leading to more people than ever deciding to cut out animal products from their diet. There are more than half a million vegans in Britain – a number that has increased by 360% in the last decade. And last year supermarket vegan food sales were up 1,500% from the previous year. The advice of the scientific community, states that reducing meat and dairy consumption is vital if we are to avert catastrophic climate change. Veganuary participants give a number of different reasons to try vegan – including tackling climate change, improving their health and reducing animal suffering.

To date, over 250,000 people from 193 countries have taken the month-long pledge to try veganism with an expectation that this number will rise to 300,000. This year, the campaign included a call on Parliament to ditch meat and dairy for January. Images depicted the Prime Minister, and sent out a personal challenge to go vegan for January.  However, some unexpected environments have embraced plant-based foods, not least Forest Green Rovers football club. The team has recently been promoted for the first time – but is its meat- and dairy-free ethos the key to its success?

The club’s owner is Dale Vince, a eco-warrior millionaire who made his fortune by selling renewable electricity to the national grid. When he bought the club, he banned red meat from all its menus. The club then became 100% vegan at the end of 2015. No animal products of any description are on sale anywhere in the club. You can’t even get cow’s milk in your tea any more.

But to attract both vegans and meat eaters to embrace this, including hearty football-fans, operators need to understand that vegan options don’t start and end with a salad. The camps are also divided on the topic of meat substitutes which emulate the taste and texture of meat. It’s about making sure your vegan customers are getting the same dining experience. Pulled jackfruit instead of pork in your burger?

Yossi Edri, head of food at the Gate, a group of three London vegetarian restaurants, says, “We are more into showcasing the vegetable, plant or fruit. Instead of educating people to replace meat with something that looks like meat, we’re trying to educate our customers that you don’t need it at all – you can make great dishes based on plants only.”

Jamie Oliver showcased vegan dishes to the public forum on a recent episode of Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast, which included roasted whole cauliflower with smoked paprika tahini and pomegranate; and vegan lasagne which were well received dishes.

Vegan options can cover many bases for caterers: those with dairy and egg allergies or intolerances, vegetarians, pescatarians, those with health, religious or cultural concerns regarding meat, as well as the trend for ‘clean eating’. Some Contract Caterers are embracing the plant-based movement and producing vegan and vegetarian dishes across the whole menu, even offering this as an alternative menu for the entire school, not just to those children whose parents wish or where health dictates them to follow a special diet.

Hints and tips for caterers embracing vegan dishes in January and beyond;

  • Get away from protein being the centre of a dish
  • Use recipes that you can portion down, freeze, and that will reheat satisfactorily to prevent waste.
  • Look at crossover component ingredients that are meat- and dairy-free and build your options around those to increase customer base. There are lots of vegan dairy free options on the market so experiment!
  • Have in store vegan substitutes that aren’t going to go off, such as dairy-free vegan spread, and nut or soy milk for teas and coffees.
  • There can be massive margins on vegan dishes if you take the protein element out and you build a dish around vegetables, lentils, beans, it will still feel like a hearty meal.
  • Don’t forget vegan desserts which are sometimes missing from menus, or a disappointment – find a dairy free creamy alternative to accompany these dishes too!