Going Veg? Saving the planet one meal at a time

Going Veg? Saving the planet one meal at a time

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Today’s world of eating out and retail food is changing fast. An ever-increasing growth in vegetarian and vegan food choices reflects how we as a community feel about the future in general and food in particular. Towards that end, we want to save our planet one meal at a time.

The food service industry has been growing year on year partially in response to the demands of our increasing population. This drives the obvious demand for supermarket food, food markets, home deliveries, take-way food, cafés, restaurants, food halls, fast food majors and the list goes on and on.

Climate change, the cost of food production, land availability and degradation, animal welfare and food wastage are some of the obvious concerns shared by vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters the world over.

As a consequence, the food service industries are responding and adapting with incredible speed to the growing demand for plant-based food. This can be seen in high street food brands featuring more and more vegetarian and vegan dishes. 

UK food chains including Marks and Spencer and Pret a Manager offer a large range of vegetarian and vegan menu items, while popular restaurant chains including Wagamama, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and Zizzi are now offering vegan pizzas. Veggie Pret, developed by Pret a Manger as a response to growing demand, is 100% vegetarian. 

Here in Australia, restaurants are increasingly offering vegan-friendly "meats", and major outlets like Hungry Jack’s, Nando’s, Schnitz and Grill’d have all added plant-based dishes to their menus. 

Across the world we are seeing fast food chains and restaurant companies offering a totally vegetarian and or vegan only menus.

IBIS World, in a recent study of changing food trends in Australia, concluded that if the cost of red meat and vegan alternatives are near parity then people are, and increasingly would be, choosing the vegan option. 

As it stands now, organic and/or vegan alternatives have the perception of generally being more expensive. As the acceptance of a plant-based diet, and one that is more climate friendly, grows, we would expect that the price parity would become more of a reality.

Roy Morgan research has found that almost 2.5 million Australians or 12.1 per cent of the adult population now have diets where almost all the food is vegetarian. This is up from 2.2 million in 2014. Vegan Australia estimates there are about 400,000 to 500,000 vegans nationwide, however figures on the exact number of vegans in Australia are not known.

The key growth factors behind the ever increasing acceptance and popularity of vegetarian and vegan food include: 

  • Globalisation – vegetarian food has always been around; as people migrate, so does their cuisine. It is important to remember that a vegetarian diet has been a significant part of the globe’s population for centuries.

  • Food media globalisation – we are exposed to food as a social and experience-led commodity more now than ever before.

  • Menu diversity - vegetarian and vegan food has never been more delicious. Gone are the days when vegetarian only meant salads and bland grains.

  • Availability - vegetarian and vegan food is now a high-street food commodity. The more that it becomes a part of the usual offer in any food precinct, the more that a critical mass of acceptance becomes reality.

  • Food quality – fresh local plant based ingredients. Producers are responding to consumer demands with a wide variety of produce.

  • Education - knowledge on the well-being benefits of a plant-based food diet

  • Social connectivity and shared values – #veganhour #vegannights

  • Food Industry support - For example Tesco have appointed Derek Sarno as their specialist plant-based chef. Read more here

  • Global concerns – global warming, droughts, food economics, population growth, animal welfare and personal well-being

Vegan Nights: A plant-based party taking place in London. The successful event is running again this September and October. (Image via Timeout)

Vegan Nights: A plant-based party taking place in London. The successful event is running again this September and October. (Image via Timeout)

So what does all this mean for the café, restaurants, food halls, markets, supermarket etc.? Certainly, it spells change in the way we plan menus, cost food and offer choices to our customers. Moreover, it is also an opportunity for the industry to completely rethink its approach to food and hospitality in meeting customer expectations and to appeal to the ever evolving, socially conscious audience.

As consumer demands change, so does the industry. It is crucial that retailers, restaurateurs and growers/producers look to adapting their product offer to meet this heightened demand. 

We here at Future Food believe that this recent surge in vegetarianism is one of the biggest trends in food that we have witnessed in our career. We believe that industry participants who don’t adapt will be left behind by the stampede.

We look forward to having conversations with our clients and friends about this important change in consumer and social awareness and how we can all plan to make a difference.

Cover image: Green Man’s Arms, Melbourne