As kitchens come out of lockdown, most chefs will be looking to make efficiencies, but they should think twice before ditching the veggie dishes, says Angela Frewin, who discovers how a plant-based offering is more vital than ever
Covid-19 may have locked down hospitality, but it has failed to reduce demand for plant-based food and drink across all menu parts and operators, from hotels to home delivery. On the contrary, the pandemic's suspected origin, jumping species in China's wet meat markets, may have boosted interest in vegan fare by sharpening the focus on health, animal welfare and food provenance.
Two recent surveys highlight the importance of maintaining a strong plant-based offer to attract part-time carnivores. Kantar Worldwide found that 93% of plant-based meals are eaten by non-vegans, while CGA's December Food Insight reported that one-fifth of diners would choose a vegan dish out of home but are frustrated by the lack of choice.
However, supplier and operators are scrambling to plug this gap with novel, high-protein solutions. More than 1,200 new vegan products and menu options were launched in the UK during January's record-breaking Veganuary.
Big taste from a small kitchen
Pre-prepared foods offer new benefits during these challenging times, when social distancing measures could mean fewer kitchen staff per shift, notes Gordon Lauder, managing director at frozen food distributor Central Foods.
The group expanded its vegan offer by 24% during 2019 and its latest product – a julienne of root vegetables with herbs, cranberries and apricots, topped with a fruit and mixed-seed oaty crumble – is also gluten-free, making it "a perfect example of a premium product that can help avoid menu proliferation, as it's suitable for a range of dietary requirements".
Tipiak is launching seven vegan canapés this September, helping kitchens deliver quality with a smaller brigade. Flavours include sun-dried cherry tomato and olive tapenade on curry polenta cubes; almond cream and edamame bean on pea-and-mint muffins; and carrot, lemon and ginger mousseline mini tarts. Other options include guacamole and almond on walnut crackers; piquillo and sweet pepper tomato tarts; sesame hummus and courgette tagliatelle on a courgette and pine nut shortbread; and sesame seed-topped falafel bites.
International development project manager Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé describes the thaw-and-serve finger foods as "an exquisite explosion of plant-based colour and flavour that highlight how delicious plant-based options can be."
Meatless Farm is also helping to support chefs with its range of plant-based products. "It's not about reinventing the wheel for chefs, but offering high-protein alternatives to meat that deliver on taste and texture and cook just the same," says head of foodservice Sarah-Jane Virr.
It's not about reinventing the wheel for chefs, but offering high-protein alternatives to meat that deliver on taste and texture and cook just the same
The group recently tweaked the recipe for its meatballs, sausages, and burgers to prioritise pea protein over soya for a meatier texture and taste. It also added ready-to-heat Meatless Bolognese and Meatless Cannelloni to its foodservice portfolio, along with a free-flow mince.
Plant-food pioneer Quorn has been focusing on its easy to prepare Vegan Deli line of hot and cold sandwich fillings, which include chilled smoky vegan ham and vegan chicken slices made from its versatile mycoprotein, to help streamline menus for clients who opened for takeaway during lockdown. In August, it will add a vegan pepperoni for use in pizzas and breakfast/salad boxes. Head of foodservice Phil Thornborrow says the company is working on its Asian and Mexican street food, and it has also recently targeted the fish and chip sector with its breaded and battered ‘fish' fillets.
Nestlé Professional is also waving the phyto-flag with its online Plant to Plate video series to arm chefs returning to work with fresh plant-based dishes based on its soya- and wheat-based Garden Gourmet vegan chicken fillet pieces, mince and burgers.
Fake meat vs veg
"There are two distinct product philosophies around plant-based food: one is to create meat substitute products that closely replicate the taste and texture of meat; the other being to create products that are distinctly vegetable- based," says William Topp, marketing manager at Gosh! Food. "Our research shows that there is a clear market for both, with consumers broadly falling into two categories: one group who are looking for meat replacements, and the other group who avoid any product that resembles meat."
Gosh! creates additive-free foods such as Moroccan-spiced koftas with chickpea, red pepper and apricot, or beetroot, carrot, kale, and mint burgers. Its range of falafels, burgers, sausages, and bites avoid all 14 key allergens and are registered by the vegetarian, vegan, coeliac and kosher food societies.
Herbivore, a new plant-based manufacturing venture from Ian Cundell and Andy Dalton of the British Premium Sausage Company, were tasked by customers including Loungers and Bills to develop a great-tasting, vegan, gluten-free sausage. Progress has been meteoric, says Dalton: "Our factory in Bradford is now vegan-only."
Antony Bennett, head of food development at Loungers and Cosy Club, who worked with Cundell and Dalton on development, added: "I've spent the last 10 years developing gluten-free and vegan menus for many leading restaurant brands in the UK. As a food developer I have always tried to find the best products in the market. When it came to finding the perfect vegan ‘meat' product range, there simply wasn't a single range that nailed it all. Working with Andy and Ian at Herbivore, I have had the chance to help them create the best gluten-free and vegan meat alternatives out there."
Jackfruit – popular for its flavour-absorbing, pulled-pork texture – is teamed with a hickory smoked barbecue sauce in Wall's jumbo and snacking vegan sausage rolls. A second variety combines Myco Foods' Hooba – a vegan mince of oyster mushroom stalks – with oats and Wall's hot seasoning.
"Hooba was developed to meet the huge demand for plant-based proteins, but it has a better, meatier texture than the frequently used pea protein and doesn't use soy, which reduces the allergen risks for manufacturers," explains Rebecca Bolt, head of innovation at Addo Food Group.
Another novel meat alternative from Finland is Gold & Green's Pulled Oats – a mix of oats, broad beans, yellow peas, rapeseed oil and salt, with a juicy, chewy texture and mild taste that readily absorbs other flavours. Simon Solway, country manager for out of home UK, describes Pulled Oats as a "clean and green solution. Nutritious, healthy and filling, packed with fibre, minerals and antioxidants and more protein than chicken and beef."
Make a meal of it
Research by Lantmännen Unibake found that, while 66% of consumers were open to meat-alternative dishes, 62% did not feel meat-free burgers matched the quality and variety of their meat-based counterparts. One way to raise the burger bar, suggests marketing manager Paulina Gorska, is to premiumise the offer with top-end buns, such as its Americana range of Vegan Society-certified gourmet burger buns in glazed, grill-marked, Kaiser Cut and gluten-free poppy seed variants.
Similarly, Mission Foods' business development chef Kim Hartley says its vegan-friendly tortillas are designed to roll and wrap without breaking, and come in a choice of sizes and formats including plain, bar-marked, and flavoured options, such as beetroot and chia, tomato and chilli, and spinach wheat flour.
Citing NPD Group research that almost 3% of eating-out visits pre-lockdown were influenced by the presence of vegetarian or vegan options, Lauder at Central Foods concludes: "Over the course of a year, 3% equates to more than 300 million out of home visits. And with the average spend by consumers seeking vegetarian and vegan options almost 4% higher than average, it really will pay to retain these options on your menus."
"If there was an option to swap out eggs in many of your dishes, and this option tastes the same, costs the same, and whips, folds and binds just like an egg, why wouldn't you use it? "asks Hannah Carter, founder of vegan-friendly cake brand Oggs, which last month launched the world's first plant-based, liquid egg alternative.
Oggs worked with two universities in the UK and Portugal to develop a process that removes the inconsistencies from using aquafaba – chickpea water – as an egg replacement in recipes from cakes, meringues, and mousses to mayos, quiches and breads.
The 500ml (10-egg equivalent) foodservice pack with a 12-month ambient shelf life launches in autumn.
33% of UK consumers now follow a flexitarian diet or avoid meat and dairy completely (Waitrose, 2019).
One-quarter of Britons will be vegans or vegetarians and nearly half will follow a flexitarian diet by 2025 (Sainsbury's).
A record-breaking 402,206 people signed-up for this year's Veganuary (up from 250,000 in 2019). Key motivators were animal welfare (37%), health (38%) and the environment (18%).
Vegan takeaway orders grew by 388% between 2016 and 2018 (British Takeaway Campaign).
20% of Britons cut down on meat and 15% on dairy and/or eggs during the Covid-19 lockdown (Vegan Society).
Vegan food will be worth a predicted £1.1b by 2023 (Mintel).
There are several new products on the market that replicate the creaminess of milk, cream and yogurt.
Bakery and dessert supplier Rich Products combines canola oil, rice syrup and brown rice for its dairy-free cooking and whipping ‘crèmes'
"Ours are the only plant-based cream alternatives that perform and taste just like dairy, with no bean, grain or nut backnotes," says marketing director John Want. He claims the whipping crème is "the only dairy alternative with whipped performance and stability superior to fresh cream."
Glebe Farm Foods' PureOaty drink (made from gluten-free British oats) is suitable for baking and can be steamed to form a foam that won't split or curdle when added to espresso.
Central Foods www.centralfoods.co.uk
Glebe Farm Foods www.glebefarmfoods.co.uk
Gold & Green www.goldandgreenfoods.com/uk/food-service/
Gosh! Food www.goshfood.com
Lantmännen Unibake www.lantmannen-unibake.co.uk
Meatless Farm www.meatlessfarm.com/food-service
Mission Foods www.missionfoods.eu/ trade.html
Nestle Professional www.nestleprofessional.co.uk/news/latest-news/serving-new-skills
Rich Products www.richsfoodservice.com/pbcc
Wall's Pastry www.walls-pastry.co.uk
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