How To Cater To The Rising Demand For Vegan, Vegetarian And Flexitarian Dishes

By Nicola Mills, Marketing Director Billington Foodservice

The word ‘trend’ suggests a passing-phase, or fad, but it looks like veganism, and it’s more flexible and popular cousin ‘plant-based foods’ are here to stay. Veganuary 2021 has chronicled a record-number of sign-ups of over 500,000 participants, a study by The Vegan Society found that 20% of Brits reduced their meat intake in lockdown, and City Pantry found that plant-based takeaway orders rose by almost a third (29%) across the nation last year. The long and the short of all of this is, the word trend doesn’t quite cut it relation to plant-based foods, this is a complete shift in how consumers think, feel and buy.

With a long history in the food industry, The Billington Group are passionate about all things food innovation, demonstrated by our ever-evolving product lines across our businesses. We’ve trawled through all the information about the hottest vegan and plant-based insights for 2021 and how your brand can participate. From menu planning and recipe development, to helpful statistics and promotional activity, there are takeaways here about the importance of tuning into the consumer consciousness, paying attention and giving the people what they want!

Health

This year’s Veganuary participants are more focused than ever on the health benefits than other drivers such as animal welfare and the environment, with a Mintel study finding that 49% of those interested in cutting down on their meat consumption said they would do so for health reasons. Plant-based diets, or some element thereof, are becoming the welcome stepping stone to the kinds of lifestyle changes lots of people want to make, but might avoid fully committing to for fear of judgement if they fancy a little of something or seek a little more flexibility if they ever just fancy a bit of cheese or chocolate. There’s an element of guilt or pressure associated with one label or another but most consumers want to feel the health benefits of some changes. ‘Plant-based’ or ‘flexitarian’ diets have a gentler, more versatile vibe than full out veganism (despite often overlapping) and so it’s important you try to echo this by offering a greater choice of healthier meals that meet this interest.

The boom of home-cooking

In a pre-Covid world, we saw a demand for fast, convenient plant-based food from delis, cafes and retailers such as rainbow salads, wraps, soups and more. The pandemic brought with it a whole host of societal issues, including sparse supermarket shelves and restrictive social distancing measures, with lockdowns causing the foodservice and hospitality industries to grind to a halt. With many reluctant or unable to tackle the weekly shop and unable to eat out, we’ve seen a surge in demand for home delivery meal kits with likes of Gousto, Mindful Chef and Hello Fresh all cashing in. Their extensive ranges of vegan, vegetarian and plan-based options are bringing exciting, new flavours and healthy dishes into the homes of millions via pre-measured ingredients and easy to follow recipe cards.

If you own a cafe, restaurant or even a local farm shop, look at how you can diversify your offering to meet the growing demand for cook-at-home kits with healthy, vegan and flexitarian options. Entice your customers with potential prizes – from a discount off their next purchase to a voucher for when your doors are able to reopen – to encourage them to share pictures of their cooked dishes and tag your business across social media. Not only will this help raise awareness of your meal kits, and drive sales, it will also allow you to create a bank of user generated content which you can then reshare (with the permission of the person) across your own channels now and into the future.

Convenience

Although many took to their kitchens to cook up new and exciting dishes in lockdown, we also saw a surge in the popularity of home delivery services from restaurants and takeaways. Demand has soared for professionally prepared ready-to-eat meals that are ordered online and delivered directly to the door, allowing consumers to tuck into a multitude of tasty, effortless meals, all from the comfort and safety of their homes. Since March, Brits have been spending 10% more on takeaways than in pre-pandemic times.

The hospitality industry has had to adapt quickly in an effort to secure an income with their doors still closed to the public, leading to a mass expansion of the range of restaurants, coffee shops, sandwich shops, dessert parlours and takeaways available to order from. For third party food delivery services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, business boomed throughout lockdown, as their apps connect consumers to a whole host of local eateries with the convenience and safety of contactless payment and delivery. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of using these apps as part of your business plan, as accessing their expansive range of app users and utilising their delivery and payment systems, although great for outreach and processing orders, it comes at a cost that may drive your prices up in order to retain your profit margin. Smaller businesses may be better off investing in a strong social media strategy and ordering system, handling the delivery side of things in-house.

Restaurants and fast food chains are rapidly expanding their offerings to cater to the growing demand for vegan and vegetarian options. From the return of the vegan KFC burger and rumoured McPlant range soon to come from McDonalds, to the Plant Patty from sandwich giant Subway, we can expect to see more and more vegan-friendly options on the menus of key fast food players, but they’re not the only ones evolving.

Restaurants like Zizzi’s, Turtle Bay and JD Wetherspoons are all making moves to increase their vegan offering, with Italian based brands leading the way by adapting their pizza and pasta dishes to cater to changing tastes and lifestyles. Vegan burgers are a popular option to consider adding to your menu, with a range of suppliers such as Beyond Meat a popular choice with customers. The innovative brand has made headlines by supplying Turtle Bay with their No Moo and Mother Clucker burgers as well as a ‘bleeding’ burger for TGI Fridays. Other dishes to think about in your menu expansion include vegan options of pies, curries, tacos, sandwiches, burrito bowls and soups.

Whether you’re adapting fan favourite dishes or introducing new recipes, be sure to expand your menu with a range of options that cater to those looking for vegan, healthy or gluten/dairy free dishes. Some are looking for realistic meat replacements, others prefer cult classic vegan ingredients such as tofu and chickpeas – incorporate dishes to suit both. Don’t restrict your additions to the mains section either, customers want to see options across the starters, mains and desserts that work for them.

“Vegan and plant-based foods have certainly gained more share of menu over the last few years and it’s a theme that isn’t going away any time soon. Consumers want the option of choice and convenience – whether they eat a vegan, flexitarian or plant-based diet, some of or all the time – so access to vegan versions of classic comfort foods is just as important as the healthier, more balanced options. This demand has led to the rise of indulgent desserts like the Pizza Hut’s “I Can’t Believe it’s not cheesecake” and success stories such as the Greggs Vegan Sausage roll and steak bake!” – Nicola Mills, Marketing Director Billington Foodservice

It’s pretty obvious at this point, that this is not a trend, it’s a long-term shift, something we’re all going to have to consider as manufacturers, marketeers and consumers. For foodie brands, there are some pretty clear messages here: innovate, think about snacks, consider how we keep it healthy and fun and don’t turn a blind eye to the importance of treats – if you can manage all that while giving consumers a sense of value too, then you’re on to a winner! There’s so many places to turn to for inspiration, but if you need some help with sourcing or creating vegan, plant-based or vegetarian products for your customers, then you can always speak to us about that!