The ‘V’ words: Veganism and Vegetarianism

01/08/2018 - 07:00
The growth of vegetarianism and veganism from fringe to mainstream has increased the pressure on cost sector operators to satisfy their diners, writes Sheila Eggleston

Mainly thanks to today’s youth, demand for meat-free, natural and less processed food is high and vegan and vegetarian dishes are now must-have menu items.

For example, research reveals most vegans are aged 15 to 35, who cite health and sustainability as reasons for uptake. They are savvier about global issues through social media, and most pundits estimate there are more than half a million of them in the UK.

In addition, annual events such as Veganuary, National Vegetarian Week in May, World Meat Free Week in June, and World Vegan Month in November have helped raise awareness of the ‘V’ words, particularly in the cost sector.

Over the past 12 months there has been an increasing demand for vegetarian and vegan options, according to Matthew White, chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO).

“Veganism has become a popular food trend, with students looking for more diverse, healthy and plant-based options,” comments White.

“Another reason people are converting to these specific diets is to protect the environment. TUCO aims to embed sustainability, which means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth, maximising wellbeing and protecting the environment.

“Earlier this year we launched a groundbreaking greenhouse gas footprint calculator, which enables caterers to calculate the footprint of their menus. By using it, caterers can contribute towards a more nature-friendly environment.”

Stewart McKenzie, chairman of the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA), says that hospital caterers are also meeting these needs.

“Vegetarian and vegan patients must be sure their nutritional needs are met, which requires to be catered for case by case,” comments McKenzie. “We believe good nutrition and hydration is vital to aid recovery. In response to demand, we are supporting The Vegan Society in its campaign for nutritious vegan meals on public sector catering menus. All patient dietary requirements are important, therefore we will always cater for their needs.”

The Vegan Society launched its campaign entitled ‘Catering for Everyone’ in March specifically to ensure vegans were catered for in the public sector. Anglia Crown director, Paul Howell, says that it supports this campaign and became the first hospital catering supplier to register its range with the Vegan Trademark.

Howell says its Crown Advantage range includes dishes suitable for both vegan and vegetarian dietary requirements. “These accompany our multi-portion chilled and frozen range, Crown Choice, consisting of 36 vegetarian mains, of which 11 are suitable for vegans,” he adds.

In May, distributor Vegetarian Express conducted research among 177 foodservice chefs and 82% said that demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes had grown in the previous year. “They all cited the same reasons: health benefits and the trend towards lower meat consumption among consumers,” comments head of marketing, Mandeep Kang.

“We’re seeing increased demand for our products across all sectors, but in particular B&I, schools and universities. In the past year we launched 10% more products year-on-year, including bigger pack formats of jackfruit and tempeh, a soy-based alternative to chicken.

“We will shortly be launching flavoured seitan variants – Italian, smoky, Cajun and original – as well as a plant-based frankfurter that most consumers would find hard to tell apart from the traditional meat product.”

Suppliers have steadily been sourcing ingredients to keep caterers on-trend and jackfruit is one of the new ‘go-to’ meat-alternatives. Chef Ben Bartlett, brand ambassador for AAK’s Lion sauces, says it’s a great alternative to pulled meat, but because it doesn’t have a high protein content it must be accompanied by beans, pulses, nuts or soya to deliver nutritious dishes. “Consumers won’t notice the occasional dish without protein, but to sustain return visits a menu has to leave people feeling they’ve eaten a decent meal,” he advises.

New from AAK is Lion vegan mayo to cater for grab-and-go demand, which Bartlett recommends using instead of soured cream or for making vegan potato salads and crunchy slaw.

Adelie Foods, which has more than doubled the size of its vegan range in the past 12 months, has extended its Urban Eat Roots range further to offer more variety. It’s important to offer alternatives, as “students don’t want just falafel sandwiches”, explains senior marketing manager, Isla Owen.

Meat-free items in familiar formats such as sausage rolls or nuggets will encourage children to eat them, says Central Foods managing director Gordon Lauder. “They may be happier to try something different and won’t be put off by strange items on menus,” he explains. “We offer KaterVeg unbaked meat-free rolls and cheese and onion rolls, which look like traditional sausage rolls but are suitable for vegetarians.”

Futura Foods’ Mozzarisella is a vegan cheese made from rice. “Products such as this can help create tasty dishes and encourage, rather than alienate, vegan diners,” says national account controller John Steele. “It’s a cheese alternative that even has the same stringy effect as mozzarella when melted on pizza.”

The importance of dairy products in vegetarian diets is highlighted by James Millward, managing director of Eurilait, particularly protein-rich Mediterranean cheese like halloumi, feta and mozzarella. He says cooked cheese especially is a star ingredient in, for instance, halloumi burgers, while cheese such as feta is great for adding salty, creamy flavours.

Vegetarian and vegan form a vital part of Brakes’ winter collection 2018/19, with new products including vegan cheese, veggie burgers, and mains such as pumpkin and sage tortelloni, and butternut and lentil Wellington.

Its findings show that youngsters are the initiators of these diets, but the biggest contribution to growth was consumers choosing veggie dishes, even if not strictly vegetarian, which helped to explain why 200 million more meat-free meals were consumed in 2017 compared to the previous year – up 7% year-on-year.

Bidfood’s 2018 Christmas/winter range also includes a wider selection of vegan products to help relieve the pressure operators are now under to meet demand. The 27-strong line-up ranges from plant-based nibbles and mains, to what it describes as the “real stars of the show”, the desserts.

Steve Lyons, sales director at Thomas Ridley, meanwhile, recommends falafels, Quorn dippers, and pitta bread and hummus for vegetarian sharing platters, but unless caterers are confident that their vegan burgers are perfect, he advises them to get help from experts. “The vegan burgers we recommend are from Paramount 21; as well as tasting amazing, they look stunning,” he says.

“Also, don’t forget to add vegetarian and vegan food to children’s menus; a vegetarian pizza is always popular, and for dessert, we offer vegan Miiro ice lollies in three flavours,” he concludes.

Veggie statistics

• 987% increase in demand for vegetarian options in 2017 versus 2016 [Just Eat 2017 sales data]

• 28% of Brits reduced their meat consumption in 2017 [Mintel 2017]

• There are one million vegetarians and more than half a million vegans in the UK [Mintel and Vegan Society 2017]

• 11% of UK adults have tried to follow a vegan diet [Vegan Society]

• Young adults are predominantly adopting permanent vegetarian diets, with half of all vegans in the UK aged 15-34 [Vegan Society/YouGov University Catering surveys]

• One in 10 16-24-year-olds describe themselves as a vegan [Mintel/TUCO food trends 2017]

• 46% of consumers changed to a vegetarian or vegan diet to improve their health [MCA HotTopics Panel March 2018]

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