Bespoke vegetable chopping stations, produce boutique stores, fresh-pressed juice bars. These are just some of the vegetable-specific food trends that have been on the rise globally over the past several years. Instead of going to the fishmonger or butcher for a prized cut of rib eye, customers are charmed by the possibility of explaining to a veg cutter how they want their vegetables chopped and prepared.
The upward trend in veganism in the UK has inspired some new initiatives.
The Vegan Society says the vegan trend in the UK quadrupled from 2012 to 2017, while The Food Revolution says, “in the UK, the number of people identifying as vegans has increased by 350 per cent, compared to a decade ago [according to research commissioned by the Vegan Society in partnership with Vegan Life magazine]."
In London, a luxury retailer, as well as a boutique store are among several businesses in the high-end market that are shaking up the chopping board on what exactly makes a chef’s cut, creating new forms and preparation options for produce.
Fresh cut no longer a luxury
Harrods, the historic and distinguished Knightsbridge department store, recently has launched an addition to its legendary Food Hall, introducing the Fresh Market Hall, positioned as the second stage of the retailer's "Taste Revolution," a whole revamp and refurbishment of the food halls. Harrods says, “We have pioneered in food for almost 150 years; we were the first food hall to sell exotic fruit; the first to air cool its produce; the first to use chefs in-store; ... the first to open a restaurant inside a food hall; we have always been at the forefront; and now it’s time to pioneer again. Through creation, relevance beauty and experience, the world’s greatest food Emporium.”
Designed by David Collins Design Studio, the Fresh Market Hall has been inspired from London’s food trends.
“Opening the Fresh Market Hall will allow us to bring my team of 150 in-house chefs to the forefront, servicing our foodie customers directly and introducing the chefs’ brand new creations to the Harrods Deli counter" Andy Cook, Harrods Executive Chef, explains. "I can’t wait for customers to taste the new dishes.”
One of the main features of the Fresh Market Hall is the new Vegetable Butcher. Here, customers meet their vegetable chef, who cuts vegetables to exact precision: julienning, mincing, dicing, cubing. You name it; the chef whips it up. Customers can request any sort of preparation for the vegetable that they fancy. The result is a tailored preparation of the customer’s own invention: anything from a bouquet of vegetables cut to order, to a prepared veg dish with condiments included that can be oven-cooked, or grilled. The butcher is also available for advice on food pairing, menu planning, and providing any tips and tricks on the vegetable front.
The showcase of fresh produce is curated by season, sourced from both farms around the country, as well as abroad, according to Harrods.
Part of the allure of the Harrods Food Hall has been its lavish décor, coupled with some of the finest and rarest foods of the world. The Vegetable Butcher certainly keeps up this tradition, bringing some rare and exceptional produce to the table, against the backdrop of impeccable lighting and ambience.
The Vegetable Butcher is actually in eye’s view of The Butcher, where British specialty breeds, game, as well Kobe, wagyu, Pyrenean lamb and Iberian pork are on sale. Then there is Harrods’ Charcuterie counter with Cinco Jotas Ham, and the Harrods cheese counter, making the Vegetable Butcher part in parcel of the same package.
“It’s an exciting time to join Harrods and continue the Taste Revolution into its next phase," Chris Dee, Director of Food and Home at Harrods explains. "Harrods has always been a leader in the world of fine food. The launch of the Fresh Market Hall celebrates our unrivalled access to the world’s finest suppliers, as well as the skills of our talented in-house chefs who prepare our new revitalised deli range each day for our discerning customers.”
Natoora (above) clearly puts produce first at its Fulham Road location.
West London location trending, as well
Over in West London, one of London’s most reputed suppliers for fruit and vegetables to the restaurant industry in the city, Natoora, also recently opened a fine vegetable gallery of sorts, showcasing and selling, the fine art of produce. The store, equipped with flattering mood lighting, presents each produce item as a pure work of art. As Natoora’s chief executive and founder, Franc Fubini, puts it, “Many of our growers are true artists.”
The store on Fulham Road has been designed in house in collaboration with Argentinean architect Noé Golomb and London-based cabinet-makers FincH – with Natoora exclaiming, “The 50-square-metre store is an ode to both the craftsmanship of growers and to the singularity of produce.”
The store arranges produce by season, beginning with the relevant season in front of house and showcasing fermented items in the preserving room. There are no typical grocery-store objects around the boutique, such as crates, or casings for certain fruits. Every produce item is presented as a prized item, with limited packaging.
Natoora also strongly advocates sustainability with materials in-house. To support this goal, the supplier also promotes independent producers with equal values on sustainability and craftsmanship, including items such as raw British rapeseed oil from Duchess Farms.
Their state-of-the-art refrigeration system creates optimum conditions for all the produce, which is unwaxed fruit and leafy vegetables.
“Our mission is to revolutionise the food system and build a transparent supply chain which respects the real seasonality of produce and celebrates the artistry of the growers behind the fruit and vegetables that they source," Natoora says. "Suppliers to almost 1,000 of the best restaurants in London, Paris and New York, they are determined to educate the general public on the importance of seasonality, flavour and transparency when it comes to fresh produce.”
Consumers embrace the world of veg
The UK market has witnessed a surge in vegetable offerings, not just in high-end retail stores like Harrods and Natoora, but also in local supermarkets from Asda and Lidl, to Waitrose and Marks and Spencers.
The shelves across the UK certainly speak for themselves, with new varieties of produce, cut up, reshaped and essentially reinvented for consumption. These include asparagus pasta, cauliflower couscous and carrot spaghetti, providing more and more options for today’s vegans, among other veg fans.
To get customer feedback about the new vegetable offerings in London, Produce Business UK asked several people perusing the halls of the Harrods Food Hall, as well as local supermarkets, about their take on the new formats.
For vegetarian Tyler Grant, creative freelancer and mother of three teenagers, who was shopping at Tesco, she says, “It’s really about time that some of these bigger stores considered healthier, non-carb alternatives, as well as the possibilities that exist within the vegetarian world. I buy asparagus pasta at least twice per week, and it’s just the perfect, healthy option for my lunches. I put it in the pan with a drizzle of olive oil and some pesto, and it is just like having a pasta dish. The fact that these have become options means that I have so much more variety in my diet.”
London local Gordon Philip adds, “I used to come to Harrods Food Hall to shop for a real occasion like a Christmas turkey or to get something that was rich, usually meaty; basically a real feast. Vegetable Butcher is a nice surprise for Harrods. It shows that they are taking consideration for other types of food occasions. I can imagine coming there to get some nice veggies for a weekday dinner. As always, Harrods' stuff is well-prepared. The same finesse as always, with a little lighter on the belly."
Restaurants in the UK taking a lead
It’s not only the stores in the UK that are adapting increasingly to the demand for veg options. Many Michelin-star restaurants in London now offer a separate veg option. For example, Michelin-starred Galvin La Chapelle recently introduced both a vegetarian tasting menu and a vegan tasting menu. Their vegetarian menu uses seasonal produce presenting dishes such as “Tagine of summer vegetables, couscous, confit lemon and harissa sauce.” The separate vegan tasting menu includes shaved fennel, grapefruit and avocado puree.
Even some of London’s more traditional and established haunts, such as the Oxo Tower, has vegetarian and vegan options on offer, with items such as chestnut mushroom rice balls on the menu.
A glance of a local high street in the UK already demonstrates a strong leaning towards vegan-friendly options, with Pret a Manger now offering vegan boxes, and even Pizza Hut putting a vegan slice on the menu.
With the rise of veganism in the UK and the trend toward health, it's likely to expect there will be new concepts and initiatives to promote the world of veg in 2019.