The latest meat-free products make thinking up veggie options for the menu a piece of cake.
Pret A Manger's plan to convert 94 recently acquired Eat outlets to its four-strong Veggie Pret brand is just one of many signs of the continued migration of plant-based meals to centre plate in the nation's diet.
Recent research by Waitrose suggests that one in eight Britons are vegetarian or vegan, while 21% claim to be flexitarian. A record 250,310 people from 190 countries signed up for the month-long Veganuary challenge for reasons of health (46%), animal welfare (34%) and the environment (12%), with 47% planning to stay vegan once the month was over.
And hospitality is rising to the challenge. Mintel reports that more than half of chefs added vegan options to their menus in 2018, while online hospitality job site Caterer.com has seen a 123% increase in vegan-specific jobs (that's 300 additional roles) advertised over the past 12 months.
The world is the chef's oyster when it comes to inspiration. "Many of the world cuisines that are in vogue are from regions where vegan diets are commonplace," notes Ben Bartlett, celebrity chef and brand ambassador for AAK's Lion Sauces.
Meaty vegan alternatives, such as tofu or mushrooms, work well, he says, with Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese recipes. Lion's 17 World Flavours sauces (all vegetarian and mostly vegan) can help chefs infuse their dishes with flavours from Asia, America, the Middle East and Mexico.
Asian food's "huge depth of flavour" makes it a popular option when it comes to veggie dishes, says Olive Catering Services director of food Jacqui Mee. Stir-frys offer caterers a simple and profitable solution, where the main protein can be subbed out for a vegetarian alternative.
Ajinomoto Foods Europe is promoting its vegan-friendly five-vegetable gyoza with a green spinach pastry as a versatile option for pub sharing platters, street food-style appetisers and small plates, and as additions to ramen, soups and Asian salads.
‘Mexicana Vegana', the current McCormick Flavour Forecast, teams classic, bold, Mexican flavours with plant-based ingredients such as barbacoa-style ‘mock meat' (spiced and charred mushrooms, aubergine or squash), faux chorizo sausage (spiced and crumbled chickpeas, lentils or grains) and Queso ‘mock cheese' sauce of cauliflower, cashews and nutty nutritional yeast.
Peas in a pod
Capturing the floating flexitarian vote is key, as 59% of meat-free alternatives are eaten by non-vegetarians, according to Kantar Worldpanel. "Giving occasional vegans something with the appearance and mouth-feel of meat encourages them to try the vegan option," says Catherine McBeth, category marketing manager at ingredient producer Macphie.
There are plenty of flavour-absorbing meat substitutes available. William Murray PR & Marketing's social listening tool revealed that Greggs' Quorn-based vegan sausage roll was Veganuary's most talked-about product, Quorn and soya-based Oumph the most-mentioned brands, and tofu (44%) and jackfruit (34%) the most popular ingredients.
But the uses for jackfruit are myriad, explains Rob Owen, executive business development chef at Creed Foodservice, and chefs are now looking for innovative ways to use the ingredient, such as in chilli 'sin carne' or vegan 'crab' cakes.
The US Jackfruit Company is launching catering-sized pouches of naked jackfruit into the UK this summer via importer Buckley & Beale, with flavoured variants to follow, while Funnybones offers cans of ready-to-use ripe, sweet jackfruit in syrup for desserts and young, green jackfruit in brine for savoury dishes.
Other popular substitutes include tempeh (a fermented soy product) and chewy seitan, made from wheat gluten. Laurence Tottingham, development chef at fresh produce supplier Oliver Kay Produce, suggests a battered southern-fried-style seitan burger.
The Meatless Farm Co's vegan-friendly mince and burgers - incorporating soya, pea and rice protein, coconut oil, yeast extract, vegetables and added vitamins and minerals - are designed to help operators offer a wide variety of meat-free dishes, and Central Foods' frozen KaterVeg Vegipieces (textured wheat and soya protein with a roast chicken flavour) can be added directly to curries, stews, casseroles and pies, says managing director Gordon Lauder.
Something completely different
Of course, branded, processed meat substitutes won't suit everybody. Additionally, "it appears that vegetarians prefer items that mimic meat, while vegans are less interested," notes Lauder, citing Surveygoo research that found meat-related descriptions of veggie fare (such as sausage or burger) attracted 49% of vegetarians, but turned off 57% of vegans.
Protein-rich cheese adds umami and essential nutrients that are sparse in vegetarian fare, such as iodine and vitamins B12 and D. Eurilait commercial director Craig Brayshaw finds the meat-free drive is boosting sales of its continental cheeses, especially halloumi, feta and goats' cheeses.
Vegetarian and vegan dairy alternatives continue to proliferate. A new entry is Rich's cooking and whipping cream - the only dairy-free whippable cream on the market. Created by chefs, the vegan cream is made from rice syrup, vegetable oil and water and can be used in soups, sauces, curries and desserts.
"Customers increasingly look for dietary information on menus, so it's worth powering up your vegan menu with nutritional details about protein and vitamins," suggests Bartlett. Tottingham advises the use of ancient grains and pseudo-cereals for a nutritional boost, such as spelt, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, quinoa and chia.
But it's not just on the main menu where operators can add a supercharge of nutritional benefits. Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director at EHL Ingredients, has seen demand surge for alternative flours, such as chickpea, lentil, yellow pea, fava bean and (for sweet bakery) coconut, almond and hazelnut.
On-trend beetroot, spinach and pea flours create vibrant red, pink and green wraps, pittas and flatbreads that appeal to the health-conscious and the Instagram generation alike.
Similarly, Pidy's vivid vegan Veggie Cups - coloured and subtly flavoured by beetroot, carrot, spinach and grilled onion juices - provide eye-catching carriers for sweet and savoury canapés, while Flower & White's award-winning, hand-crafted, Swiss-baked rainbow fruit meringue drops (with raspberry, lemon, passion fruit and black cherry juices) make delicate additions to cakes and desserts or freakshakes.
Menu placement, as well as description, can affect the uptake of plant-based dishes, as Lauder explains. "A London School of Economics and Political Science study released last year showed that separating vegetarian dishes on a menu can reduce the proportion of people who choose a vegetarian option."
Hitting the mark
Chef Paul Gayler teamed up with Aramark Northern Europe culinary directors Paul Bloxham and Derek Reilly to create the contract caterer's new Plant Market menu, a globally influenced choice of vegetarian and vegan fare that extends Aramark's drive to create climate-healthy menus.
"Veganism is not a fad," says Bloxham. "Aramark research in the US shows that
60% of consumers want to reduce their meat intake and 62% want to eat more vegetables. We're seeing the same trends in the UK."
"The future of our planet is at a critical point and Generation Z in particular feel they are fighting for their very survival," adds marketing director Carolyn Hails. "Conscientious consuming is at the fore, and provenance, sustainability and nutrition are top of mind."
Sample menus include Cuban black bean burger with pineapple relish and chimichurri sauce with sides of Mojo-grilled vegetable salad and plantain wedges with chilli and jack cheese; or savoury Korean pancakes with noodles and vegetables, red and white kimchi salad, and wok-fried broccoli, mushroom and sesame salad.
Bright and beautiful
Lena BjÁ¶rck, founder of bespoke event caterer Alexander & BjÁ¶rck, finds that her clients are generally becoming very 'varied and adventurous'.
"For us, the brighter and the more unusual is frequently requested, and some of our favourites include bergamot tofu with edamame purée and miso nori; eryngii mushrooms, celeriac rémoulade and lotus root with pomelo emulsion; and shimeji, rainbow radish crisp and pea sponge. And I can't possibly forget the spring onion bhajis with coconut chutney and passion fruit gel."
TGI Fridays has upgraded its vegan-friendly rating from one to five stars after expanding its plant-based menu to include four vegan starters and four vegan mains.
"It isn't a tick-box exercise - vegan food is now a core part of our menu," explains head of food and drink Terry McDowell, who followed a vegan diet for three months while developing the additions to the menu.
The new lines (which include pineapple and jalapeÁ±o edamame beans, roasted vegetable Alfredo pasta and avocado hummus) are selling well - and not just among vegans. "Our vegan tomato bruschetta has become one of the most popular appetisers on our menu, full stop," says McDowell. Fridays' first vegan burger - made of beetroot, coconut oil, mushrooms, herbs, plant proteins
and spice - is also a hit.
The drive to replace animal-based products with vegan versions includes the 'veganisation' of its Legendary Glaze (a sweet and spicy sauce used on its burgers) and the replacement of sour cream with avocado cream.
Ajinomoto Foods Europe
Buckley & Beale www.buckleyandbeale.com
Central Foods www.centralfoods.co.uk
Flower & White
Meatless Farm Co
Oliver Kay Produce
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