It's time to modernise that menu with the latest vegan and vegetarian products, from juicy barbecued burgers to summer desserts without the dairy.
Operators may be settling back into their old, familiar routine, but their menus can't – they need to be constantly renewed and reinvigorated.
That's where the latest crop of vegetable-based vegan and vegetable foods come in. It's already a fact that diners, whether meat eaters or not, want to see a plant-based option on the menu. Research by Meatless Farm found 37% of customers want a strong plant-based offer in reopened outlets, with health (42%), ingredient transparency (32%) and environment friendliness (30%) key motivators.
"According to Kantar, 12.3 million people in the UK are actively reducing red meat consumption," says Hazel Detsiny, vice-president of food and refreshment at Unilever Away From Home. Its plant-based offering includes the Vegetarian Butcher, Knorr Professional and Hellman's award-winning vegan mayonnaise range, in bacon, chipotle and garlic flavours.
"More than 25% of our product range is now vegan and this has been fuelled by the astonishing growth in demand for plant-based products right across the board," says Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods.
Several plants are gaining centre-plate stardom. "Beetroot burgers have been growing in popularity in recent years," says Rational regional sales manager David Bennet, while Barny MacAdam, taste creator at Santa Maria Foodservice, spotlights cauliflower – served as roasted steaks or rice – as another star performer on the plant-based foods leaderboard.
Slow-cooked jackfruit remains "bang on trend", adds Lauder, and Central Foods has teamed up with jackfruit specialist Jack & Bry for its new line of sausages, burger patties, sausage coins and pepperoni slices. Other options include sweet potato katsu curry, root vegetable wellington and squash-based dishes, suggests Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director at EHL Ingredients' foodservice arm Lähde.
The world of high-protein meat substitute ingredients, such as tofu, tempeh, nuts and pulses, is also in constant development, says Bennet. Pioneering formats, such as Quorn's versatile range of flavour-absorbing mycoprotein-based products, now include a vegan buttermilk-style chicken burger that is, says head of marketing and innovation Claire Roper, "our biggest NPD launch for foodservice in five years".
"Meat-free options can offer caterers increased yield and convenience," says Lauder. For example, Central's KaterVeg frozen vegan mince, made from seasoned and textured soya protein, has no shrinkage and provides a 20%-25% greater yield than meat, meaning increased portions or better plate coverage.
Fast-growing Spanish brand Heura has simulated the juiciness of fats in burgers by combining healthier mono- saturated extra virgin olive oil with sustainable soy extracts. Its burgers contain just 6.5g of fat (64.25% less than a beef burger), and it uses a similar formula for its chicken chunks and strips.
UK-grown, high-protein ingredients, such as peas, mushroom, wheat, hemp and oats, are often cheaper than meat alternatives, observes Rees Bramwell, nutritionist at workplace caterer Eurest. Squeaky Bean uses wheat gluten and vegetables for its sandwich slices and wheat and pea protein for its chicken-style pieces and chargrilled mini fillets due to their "excellent texture profiles", says senior commercial director Barry Brazier.
Meatless Farm has changed its burger and sausage recipes to an all pea protein mix and has opened a flagship textured plant protein factory in the world's pea capital in Calgary, Canada, to improve quality control and halve the water and energy used.
"The impact of Covid has paved the way for a more collaborative approach to innovation, especially in foodservice," says head development chef Ben Davy. The Meatless Meatball wrap Meatless Farm co-created with Pret A Manger became the first item to reach the chain's best-selling top five during launch week, while its pea protein hotdog was launched across US restaurant chain's Nathan's Famous, using its 100-year-old secret spice recipe.
Similarly, Gold&Green's Pulled Oats – a precooked, flavour-absorbing blend of oats, fava beans and peas in mince, meatball and burger formats – are used in Taco Bell's burritos, tacos, quesadillas and in its Crunchwrap Supreme. "By changing one meal to Pulled Oats you're saving seven full bathtubs of water compared to a beef-based dish," points out country manager for out of home and retail Simon Solway.
Crème de la crème
The market for plant-based dairy substitutes has doubled over the past five years, according to Kantar, and research by bakery and dessert supplier Rich Products suggests that 17% of Brits are now seeking dairy-free alternatives.
"Taste is still king, and while trial of dairy replacements is high, repeat purchases still rely on the products ‘being like the original' in terms of flavour and functionality," says John Want, sales, marketing and R&D director at Rich's Products. Rich's has developed liquid cooking and whipping ‘crèmes' made from canola oil, rice syrup and whole brown rice to do just that.
Making its coconut milk-based ice-creams – including the new Vanilla Bean and Caffe Latte flavours – in Ghana gives the Blue Skies range a "unique creamy texture" due to its speedy tree-to-tub freshness, says chief executive Hugh Pile. This also ensures that 75% (rather than 15%) of the finished product's value stays in the local community.
Two new dairy-free powdered blends from Aimia Foods include Iglooh, a vanilla-base mix that adds a thick, creamy texture to frappes, smoothies and shakes, and the vitamin- and mineral-enriched Horlicks Vegan for malty hot and cold plant-based beverages. It's also targeting the wellness sector with Drink Me Chai's creamy new Vegan Cup instant powdered turmeric and cacao latte blends, which are added to hot water or plant-based milks.
It's a wrap
"The rise of Mexitarian – plant-based Mexican food – is set to be the standout trend of 2021 and for the second year running," predicts MacAdam. According to Santa Maria's research, it was the most talked-about cuisine during Veganuary, and with wraps in barbecue and garlic and chilli flavours the top options.
Aimia Foods makes it easy to add popular world flavours to meat- and plant-based dishes alike as all of its Uncle Ben's Professional and Dolmio Professional ranges of ready-to-use, gluten-free ambient sauces are vegetarian, and 14 of the 17 are vegan.
Two new vegan sauces from ingredients supplier Macphie include a dairy-cream alternative and a demi-glace made from mushroom, vegetable stock and tomato for gravies and use in red wine, pepper and teriyaki sauces. Although plant-based foods are tipping into the mainstream, Davy at Meatless Farm notes they are still presented primarily as solutions for people avoiding or reducing meat rather than just another normal meal option. Future growth, he predicts, "depends on how the category is marketed by retailers and foodservice as well as the brands themselves, for example having plant-based options alongside meat in store or top of menu rather than as a standalone section implying specialist diets".
You are what you eat
A vegan diet delivers more positive, focused and productive workers, according to two studies by corporate delivery service City Pantry. An early survey found that 34% of UK workers eat unhealthily three or four times a day, leaving many feeling unmotivated (34%) and sluggish (32%) as a result.
Nutrition experts in the new Productivity Pick-Me-Ups study found dark chocolate, leafy greens and plant-based proteins, such as tofu and tempeh, to be the best focus and mood lifters, along with raw vegetables and fruits and spices such as turmeric, black cumin and capsaicin.
It recommends colourful, non-starchy, polyphenol-rich foods, such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, red pepper, Mexican oregano, chestnuts, blackberries, apple cider vinegar, onion and garlic, to fight inflammation, reduce fatigue, stabilise insulin levels and nurture brain and gut. Other recommendations include replacing processed vegetable oils with extra virgin olive oil, or consuming olives, avocado, chia seeds, hazelnuts, almonds and macadamias for the omega-3 fatty acids needed for peak brain performance.
- One-quarter of Britons will be vegan or vegetarian and nearly half flexitarian by 2025 (Sainsbury's).
- The plant-based foods market grew by 243% following Covid-19 (NPD Crest).
- Orders for vegan dishes grew by 163% year-on-year at Deliveroo and by 345% at recipe box supplier Mindful Chef since start of lockdown.
- Meat and dairy alternatives will be worth €7.5b (£6.5b) in Europe by 2025, up from €4.4b (£3.8b) in 2019 (ING).
In a fizz
The wellness trend is boosting the popularity of fermented foods, says Barry Brazier, food specialist at Squeaky Bean: "Products such as kimchi and sauerkraut have been growing rapidly during the past year, in part due to links with gut-healthy properties and probiotics."
Fermented kombucha – a sparkling, low-sugar beverage packed with gut-friendly probiotics, beneficial acids and antioxidants made by feeding sweetened tea to a living scoby – is also finding favour.
"Kombucha is popular with health-conscious consumers and young adults looking to cut alcohol consumption," notes Liliana Jauregui, marketing manager at Good Earth. "The UK is among the leaders fronting the charge to grow the kombucha market, worth around £16m in the UK, with expected growth of 43% to 2024.
Good Earth's three organic kombuchas come in original, ginger, and pomegranate and blueberry flavours.
Gold & Green Foodswww.goldandgreenfoods.com/uk
Santa Maria Foodservicewww.santamariaworld.com/uk/foodservice
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