January 2022 was Veganuary’s most successful year on record. Well over half a million people officially committed to a plant-based diet to kickstart their year – bolstered no doubt by the organisation’s first ever cinema advert.
It’s an excellent time to be plant-curious. There are now vegan versions of several of the nation’s fast-food favourites, and Starbucks has dropped its surcharge on plant milks. Tesco has promised to grow its sales of plant-based products by 300% over the next five years. These are calculated strategies based on people’s demand, as it becomes clear that plant power equals buying power. Saving the planet, it turns out, is good for business.
The face of plant-based is also changing, with visionary chefs in the kitchen and high profile ambassadors too. Take Neil Rankin, renowned former head chef at barbecued meat mecca Pitt Cue. Rankin has developed a vegan meat alternative using fermented vegetables, and is selling 40,000 products a week into restaurants while the product is too new to even have a website yet. Or Harlem Eubank, the champion lightweight boxer who swears by a purely plant-based diet.
So, plant-based is here to stay. How can brands cater to this ever-growing demographic? The vegan in a group of diners holds disproportionate sway over the rest of the group – if the vegan choices don’t pass muster, you will lose the whole party. Inclusion is key.
Language plays a significant role. For a long time, vegan menu offerings have been treated as an afterthought. We will see a movement away from words like ‘alternative’ or ‘substitute’ towards more positive descriptive phrases such as ‘plant-first’. Those considering vegan options for the first time are also unlikely to be seduced by terminology such as ‘cultivated meat’. Proper consideration must be given to how these products are positioned, and it is of paramount importance that the terminology used is not confusing or alienating for newcomers to the plant-based movement.
It is also worth reframing what have sometimes been perceived as the limitations imposed by cooking with vegan ingredients, and what has led in the past to vegan diners being served the ubiquitous and uninspiring plate of limp roasted vegetables. Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier recently said: “Removing the animal from the equation does not affect the quality of the final product, and in fact has improved the scope of my creativity”.
We predict a trend for plant-based menus that emulate familiar dishes and seek to provide a balance of flavours and textures whilst reflecting the season. This in turn will help the move towards a time where the label of ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ falls away and everyone can simply enjoy delicious food from a reliable provenance.
Clear storytelling that demystifies plant-based eating for those who might be recent or reluctant adopters is also important. For example, conveying that eating this dish ‘saves this number of trees’ or ‘offsets this distance flown in a plane’ helps to prove that there is a considered and embedded journey behind what is being served, and makes the diner reflect upon the myriad decisions that have been made in order to create the food that they are eating in this moment.
We are living through a cultural shift. The Calorie Labelling Regulations being introduced to menus by law this April are likely to drive an even bigger spike in plant-based consumption, as animal-derived products tend to be higher in calories due to fat content. A report released by the Good Food Institute on 26th January predicts that the plant-based industry will need to boost capacity as much as tenfold to 25m tonnes of food annually to cater for the projected year-on-year growth of 18% by 2030. A taxation on red meat no longer seems like science fiction.
This lifestyle evolution is not just about the food we eat. You can stay in an entirely vegan suite at Hilton Bankside, or listen to a vegan playlist (featuring only music from artists who are vegan themselves) at Pizza Express.
Plant-based food is only the beginning. The future is bright: the future is green.