Make the most of meat-free menu choices

There is clearly plenty going on in the meat-free menu market. Media stories in just the past few weeks have told us that:

  • Sandwich chain Pret a Manger will use the acquisition of its smaller rival Eat to speed up the roll-out of its Veggie Pret format;
  • Fast food chain KFC sold out of initial supplies of its newly-launched Imposter Burger, made with Quorn, in just four days;
  • Wagamama has launched a new vegan children’s menu, which includes favourites such as ramenand katsu curry, as well as new dishes.

Chefs and operators have known for many years that including an interesting choice of vegetarian and vegan options on menus makes sound business sense. The standard industry wisdom has been that one vegetarian customer in a larger party of diners is likely to  have the casting vote on where the group eats. If the meat-free menu options in one restaurant don’t appeal, the whole party will eat somewhere else.

What may have taken some operators by surprise is the pace at which the market is changing. Research by supermarket group Waitrose shows that one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan. This goes well beyond the 2% of adults and children who the Vegetarian Society quotes as not eating meat or fish 100% of the time, a figure based on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics.

As the Vegetarian Society itself points out, there is a larger group of  people who are vegetarian “some of the time”, or who may eat fish or chicken but not red meat. This is reflected in the Waitrose survey, where a 21% of people claim to be flexitarian, by following a more vegetable-based diet supplemented with meat

This means around a third of UK consumers have decided to either reduce the amount of meat they eat or removed it from their diet entirely. While younger people are most likely to follow a fully vegetarian or vegan diet, this flexitarian approach has a broader appeal across the customer demographic, with just as many consumers aged 45-plus saying they are following the trend.

Operators may have spotted the trend, but there remains a question over how well they have responded. A survey of members of industry body UKHospitality found that 55 per cent identify meat-free eating as a growing influence on customers. However, in a consumer survey by Mintel, four in ten diners said that vegan meals on offer in restaurants are boring, and 41% believe they are overpriced.

So how can operators meet high consumer expectations? Ideas include:

  • Try meat substitutes such as seitan, made from wheat gluten, or jackfruit, as vegan alternatives in burger, curries, pies and other popular dishes. These have dense, meaty textures and easily take on the flavours of spices and sauces easily.
  • Use a choice of grains, such as spelt, bulgur wheat, buckwheat and quinoa, to add texture and flavour to dishes
  • Make the most of seasonal vegetables when they are at their best in terms of quality, value, and availability;
  • For customers looking to reduce meat in their diets, offer a creative choice of sustainable fish and seafood dishes. Suppliers can advise on ‘catch of the day’ and ‘market fish’ style menus ideas according to which species are being landed, as well as farmed options.
  • Look at the increasing choice of vegan and vegetarian alternatives to menu favourites such as burgers, pies and sausages. This is one of the biggest areas for food product development currently, so work with suppliers who can offer a range of product options.

Sustainability is very much one of the factors driving consumer trends, with a recognition that the environmental impact of meat production is a key issue. From changing diets and menu alternatives to new methods of production, this is an issue that is only going to increase in its significance to operators.

As part of our commitment to sustainability, Lynx Purchasing will continue to work with our customers and suppliers to ensure that meeting consumer expectations goes hand-in-hand with maintaining profitability and ensuring the long-term health of the sector. You can find out more about our Sustainability Programme here:

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