The rise of veganism and plant-based diets signals boost for fresh produce sales
Pan Asian lunch at vegan restaurant Rootcandi

The rise of veganism and plant-based diets signals boost for fresh produce sales

Liz O’Keefe

Veggie burger

Vegan is the new food cool. You don’t necessarily have to actually be vegan full time either. Vegan days and options are becoming popular in a society that is heading towards ethical or nothing when it comes to meat, and integrating plant-based diets, ‘clean-food’ or ‘clean-eating’, and health-conscience choices like crazy. As we head into 2017, PBUK looks into where the vegan eating trend is taking us.

It’s clear that attitudes towards veganism are changing. Many different people believe in veganism for differing reasons. But whether it be for health, an ethical stance on the treatment of animals and obtainment of animal by-products, or for the environment (some consider the production of non-animal stock is much kinder to the world), or an incorporation of vegan principles into their diet a few days a week in the way of a detox, all agree that veganism is catching on. 

Of course, it’s a slow and quiet revolution. Remember the days when vegetarians where the odd ones out? Now vegetarianism is more than accepted and positively encouraged, along comes its not-so-distant cousin to make some foodie waves. According to The Vegan Society, 1 percent of the population of Great Britain follow a strict vegan diet and this has gained traction “hugely” in the past few years. 

“People are slowly realising that vegan food is varied, creative and delicious – as well as becoming more aware of the benefits for the planet, our health, and the animals,” explains Elena Orde, communications officer at The Vegan Society and The Vegan editor. 

“Fresh fruit and vegetables often make up a higher proportion of a vegan’s diet, so this is essential. Vegans cook with a variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses, so the opportunities are incredibly varied. Vegan cheese has now become much more widely available, so this is being used more and more in vegan cooking. Vegans have the same nutritional needs as non-vegans, and luckily we can meet all of these needs by eating a varied diet.”

Rob Trounce of vegan and plant-based marketing strategy consultancy Walden, who works with vegan businesses, like Brighton restaurant Rootcandi, as well non-vegan businesses looking to implement plant-based and vegan options, admits that it’s still something of a niche, although growing rapidly. 

“Two decades ago most people wouldn’t have heard the term ‘vegan’,” he says. “The change has much to do with celebrity culture and media, but also rising awareness of the impact of diet on the environment and health. There’s a wider consciousness around what we’re eating and consuming leading to more ethical food choices, be that vegan eating or just increasing the ratio of plants-to-animal products in a person’s diet.”

Catering vegan

As with vegetarianism, niche vegetarian restaurants pop up, main stream restaurants accommodate by integrating vegetarian options and then high-end supermarkets like M&S and Waitrose get with the trend. Veganism is now going through that process. 

“Restaurants seem to be slowly catching on to the vegan trend,” says Orde. “Certain chains, such as Handmade Burger, Zizzi and Wetherspoons are adding vegan options onto their menus, and are seeing great results.”

According to Trounce, Zizzi is one restaurant that is playing the trend right, by introducing optional vegan cheese for their standard pizzas, and seeing sales boom. “Stereotypes paint a picture of vegans eating all kinds of odd foods,” he points out. “In reality, most vegans just want to be normal.”

Open since mid-2015, Rootcandi has changed from tapas-style food to small plates of Pan-Asian and has seen incredible growth from pop-up to full-time restaurant also serving botanical cocktails, with weekend bookings full in advance. The Crispy Tofu is head chef Reuben Waller’s signature dish, and he has brought his previous Michelin-starred experience to Brighton to concentrate on a plant-based twist. 

When asked how important fresh fruit and vegetables are, Trounce says the answer should be “very” but that this isn’t necessarily the case. “As more innovation goes into plant-based meat and dairy, there are restaurants using only minimal amounts of fruit and veg, like vegan burger restaurants and pizza places. There’s an untapped world of interesting plants out there.”

Vegan eatery Nico’s Kitchen & Lounge’s head chef Nicola Di Russo says fruit and veg is crucial to most vegans and so generally makes up most of a vegan menu. “It’s the most important thing when it comes to taste, colour and nutrition,” explains the chef, who has been serving vegan food for nearly a decade. “When you’re making a dish entirely out of plant-based foods you have to be sure that the plants you’re using are the best.

“At the beginning of my career, vegan food was a lot simpler. Now, we can make things like cream, mock meats and cheese because plant foods are so versatile. A lot of this is down to science. Before becoming a chef I studied science to understand how food works on a molecular level. This is the thinking that has pushed vegan food forward to the variety we have now.”

Sourcing and broadening the ingredients list

“There’s perhaps another lesser considered value offering that’s necessary for many vegan restaurants, Rootcandi included, is a wide range of products,” says Trounce. “In order to consistently excite customers, we aim to serve plants that aren’t your standard supermarket affair. Interesting new flavours and textures can be achieved simply by sourcing more unusual fruits, vegetables and herbs. If there’s a wide range of plant foods that a supplier can get us, then that’s a big bonus. We want to make plant-based food that’s so good, even veritable carnivores come flocking. One way of doing this is by shaking up the supplies and what goes into the food.”

Fresh, local and organic are the key words when it comes to produce at Nico’s. “Variety is important but so is consistency,” says Georgie Drake, co-owner of the restaurant. “Seasonality and changing your menu according to it is important if you want the best-quality fruit and veg. We want products you can’t see in the supermarket, that’s half of the joy of dining out, to try.”

A new breed of consumer

It looks like the next five years are going to be exciting for veganism, with many more fresh produce-focused supply opportunities to come. “What we would like to see is veganism becoming as recognised and understood as vegetarianism, with a range of vegan options on every menu,” adds Orde. 

And this looks likely. “Plant-based eating shows no signs of stopping, and the industry shows huge growth potential with the likes of Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, even Tyson Foods now investing in plant-based products and innovation,” adds Trounce. “Restaurants are, for the most part, failing to capitalise on this trend. But, this is only going to get more popular. Unlike other diets there’s a trifecta of factors – animal welfare, personal health, and environment. Restaurants and suppliers that take notice now will gain a first-mover advantage in a growing market.”



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