Veganuary 2018 demonstrated the ongoing charge towards more plant-based eating with the number of individuals participating nearly tripling from 59,500 in 2017 to 168,500. With sign-ups reaching 250,000 in 2019, and almost a third (29%) of all evening meals eaten at home containing no meat, the appetite for veg-led dishes has all the hallmarks of a longer-term shift than a trend.

A recent Kantar report that found millennials didn’t see being flexitarian as cutting down but rather an exploration of new food types. In Ireland, Just Eat reported a 987% increase in demand for vegan options in 2017 alone(9).

While the long-term trend line paints a positive picture, we aren’t quite moving far enough, fast enough. Sales of lamb and pork were fractionally down according to the figures from MCA Menu Tracker in the UK in 2018, yet beef sales were static, with continuing growth in burgers (up 0.5%). Chicken sales were up 1%, and overall, vegetarian dishes were up just 0.2%. Kantar Worldpanel reports much more significant trends in terms of the move away from meat in consumers’ shopping baskets, where the volume of beef sold is down 2%, lamb 8% and pork 2%, showing that consumers are quicker to change their habits at home than they are when out. Chicken remains the outlier. Its 2% sales uplift sees it now accounting for nearly half of all meat eaten by volume in the UK.

Following the SRA’s 2017 campaign to #FlipTheMenu, 2018 saw a significant shift in restaurants across our network towards more veg-led dishes, featuring recipes with smaller, more sustainable portions of meat.

 

FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE FOOD MADE GOOD SUSTAINABILITY RATING 2018

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  1. Across the SRA network there was a 25% increase in menus providing an equal balance of veg and meat-led dishes, providing consumers with a significantly increased range of choice.
  2. This shift towards more plant-based dishes has been most noticeable on the menus of larger operators, increasing from less than a fifth in 2017 to more than half of the total dishes on their menus in 2018 – giving 129m customers at 2,454 sites across the country more than double the number of veg-based dishes to choose from.
  3. Giving veg-led dishes greater prominence on the menu, an idea supported by research by the World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab (10) and the London School of Economics, is among the most popular techniques employed by SRA members to increase sales. 62% reported doing this in 2018.
  4. Introducing smaller portion sizes is becoming an increasingly popular means of reducing customers’ meat consumption.

All the operators we spoke to are taking steps to beef up their veg offering. There is general agreement though that meat remains the most popular choice for customers, and that it’s tough getting them to change long-held eating habits and, in some cases, there’s a reluctance to go beyond simply providing customers with a range of choices.

While a UK industry-wide survey by Foodable Labs found that half of chefs had added vegan options to their menu in 201811, there is a definite sense that the industry is responding to consumer demand rather than taking the lead. Some definitely don’t see it as their role to proactively change diners’ behaviour.

Steve Holmes of Azzurri Group, whose Zizzi brand has grown vegan dishes to 8% of all main course sales, said:

Raymond Blanc OBE, President of the SRA and Chef Director of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, speaks for a number in the industry when describing the balance they are trying to strike between influencing customers’ eating habits and offering them what they want. He says, “This is a difficult compromise as we are a service industry, and ultimately a guest will choose what they wish to eat”.

wagamama attributes a good deal of its success increasing sales of its plant-based dishes to engaging staff in the process and hiring in outside expertise.

“We looked within, to our inspiring league of team members, many of which are vegan. Involving them in the menu process from conception to delivery proved to be an invaluable asset to us on this journey,” says Emma Woods, the company’s CEO.

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