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The Rise of Vegans and How Restaurants Meet the Needs of Ethical Diners

Over the last 10 years, the number of people identifying as a vegan in the UK has skyrocketed from 150,000 to 542,000, according to The Vegan Society, and the rising statistics don’t end there – a survey taken earlier this year found that 1 in 10 UK adults want to go vegan in 2018. This could be cited, in part, to the Veganuary phenomenon.

Veganuary is a campaign that encourages people to try living a vegan diet for January, with the hope they may continue throughout the year and beyond.  In 2018, Veganuary found a staggering 135,000 people signing up; and this is just a small part of the bigger picture. A 2017 YouGov survey result showed 25% of millennials are either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, and 44% of all consumers are willing or committed to cutting out meat.

A wider awareness of health implications of meat consumption (eating a lot of red and processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer) and Netflix documentaries such as Live and Let Live, Cowspiracy , What the Health, and Food Choices have put a spotlight on vegetarian and vegan diets.

You’re probably asking, “what are the reasons for this?”. Well, the movement is being driven by young people making more ethical and compassionate choices, with almost half of all vegans falling into the 15-34 age bracket, compared to just 14% who are over 65. This evidence goes to support the continued rise and growth of veganism in the future, and this is something that those in the restaurant, catering, and hospitality sectors need to champion in order to not fall behind the trend. What used to be seen by many in and out of the industry as “being difficult”, “weird”, or “hippy” is now a growing part of society that needs to be reflected and literally catered for.

The public perception of veganism is changing fast. It’s no longer an extreme lifestyle.

Vegan Life magazine publishing director Keith Coomber said: “The public perception of veganism is changing fast. It’s no longer an extreme lifestyle, it’s easy and accessible - you can walk into any supermarket and be greeted by a huge range of dairy-free milk and many more other vegan-friendly products.

 “As consumers become more savvy about the reality of the farming industry, and the health implications of meat and dairy products, this boom will only continue.”

The High Street Stars of Vegan Options

So how are those in the restaurant and hospitality business meeting this increasing demand for vegan options? Within the UK foodservice sector, there are some examples of vegan-focused restaurants, with a majority of them in London. Whilst opening a successful vegan-only restaurant can be tricky, ensuring there is a good range of vegan dishes on the menu is a relatively easy way to open up your business to this increasing sector of society.

Some chain restaurants that have spearheaded this are Leon and Zizzi, who have more than 10 dishes that are suitable for vegans. Pizza Hut announced their vegan pizza addition to their menu in January of this year, complete with Violife vegan cheese and even “bacon bits” that are surprisingly 100% vegan, too.

But the chain that’s gone above and beyond to cater to vegans and vegetarians is Pret A Manger. This sandwich store chain’s sales last year were driven by plant-based products, and the company now has three veggie-only stores in London. Pret A Manger opened its Little Veggie pop up shop on Broadwick Street, Soho, London on 1st June 2016. They had two objectives: 1) Give chefs a turbo-challenge to come up with delicious new veggie and vegan options and 2) Ask customers what they would like to see end up on Pret’s shelves, permanently. Fast forward two years and the success of “Veggie Pret” as it’s now known has taken off in ways that even CEO Clive Schlee could not have foreseen. Schlee said recently, “The top-selling eight new products at Veggie Pret are all vegan, which either shows that vegan dishes can be just as delicious as veggie dishes, or we have underestimated how strong the vegan movement is.” It’s likely to be a bit of both, and Pret’s competition should be considering how they can harness the rising vegan community.

Whilst the implementation of vegan menus in established restaurants is worth mentioning, it’s also important to mention the vegan/vegetarian-specific restaurants. Mildred’s vegetarian and vegan restaurant originally opened in 1988 when vegetarian restaurants were rather stale and outdated, with lots of brown rice in earthenware pottery on pine tables. Mildred’s aim was to rejuvenate the vegetarian/vegan dining experience with fresh and colourful food that is often exciting, never bland. It’s safe to say that the team at Mildred’s have achieved their goal as the often-packed restaurant is popular with meat-eaters along with veggies. Along with their Soho, Kings Cross and Camden branches, the vegetarian/vegan group has recently opened their 4th site in Dalston and are looking to expand their portfolio even further.

It’s not just restaurants targeting the plant-based demographic either. In 2004 travel firm VegVoyages launched, offering three trips in one country. 14 years later, the company, which specialises in vegan adventure tours in Asia, now run up to 23 trips a year in five different countries. This Texas-based company is just one of several operators that cater to ethical consumers looking to experience different cultures without damaging the environment, exploiting local people, or harming animals.

Vegan – not a word to shout about

According to foodservice consultants MCA Insights, use of the term vegan on UK menus increased 107% this year, compared to last year. But despite this, the term is still a way behind vegetarian, gluten-free, and low-calorie, with some believing it’s best to stay this way.

Gabriella Roberts, head of nutrition at independent hospitality provider Baxter Storey, says the shift to vegan and meat-free diets is no fad – "It's massive, and it's cultural" – but says labelling a product as vegan can turn flexitarian customers off and dent sales. "Some people think we're just cost-cutting."

John Hopkins University specialists have reportedly found the word vegan can see sales plummet 70%. Positive, indulgent language, expressing taste and flavour works much better, according to work being carried out at the Yale Centre for Customer Insight with companies including Quorn, and Sainsbury's.

Research at Stanford, also showed how diners chose vegetables with indulgent labelling ("sweet sizzling green beans") 25% more than those with basic labelling ("green beans"). The team found that attaching a health message actually discouraged diners.

So, if you’re looking to attract more vegan diners to your establishment the general rule seems to be: scrap the word “vegan”, Dereck Sarno, Tesco chef-director of plant-based innovation and co-founder of Wicked Healthy food blog and says, “You don’t need a label or to segregate. Vegans are 1% of the population so why put up the banner? Just make food that’s good for everyone.

“Vegans have made a lifestyle choice so regardless of the label they study the ingredients.”

If you’re looking for your next restaurant location or want to expand into vegan dining, then speak to one of the experts at Restaurant Property. With many years of experience and a wealth of industry knowledge, we are best placed to give your next venture the very best start on the road to success.

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