Veganism has gone from a food trend to an industry shifter and having vegan options on your menu is more important than ever before. So how are restaurants catering to this shift in the market and why is it important to make the move?
Whether it’s for ethical, political, environmental, religious or economic reasons veganism continues to rise and so does the need to have vegan options on your menu, no matter how big or small your business is. But how exactly has veganism risen in popularity over the last few years and how are venues adapting to the ever-shifting dial?
Looking back 10 years veganism was a trend that only touched the surface of the hospitality industry. At the time it didn’t matter if you had vegan options on your menu or not - it was simply a choice; a choice that didn’t impact your bottom line.
Fast forward to 2022, veganism has become more than just a trend both abroad and here in Australia. It’s now become a lifestyle choice with 12% of the Australian population following a vegetarian or vegan diet, according to Finder.com and it continues to rise.
In the last decade, those following a plant-based diet increased by about 50%. Back in 2012, 1.7 million Australians described themselves as vegan or vegetarian, with this number now rising up to 2.5 million in 2022. Check Here
Along with the growth in vegan and vegetarians in Australia, there’s also been a rise in alternative food options available on the market. In recent years there’s been a 50% rise in the demand for plant-based products at Woolworths alone, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. According to the article, Vegan Australia is referenced as saying “the number of vegan products listed at Woolworths grew from 550 in 2019 to about 1,800 in 2022.”
But while the demand for plant-based products continues to rise, it’s important to remember that vegan food is no longer just for vegans. Product review website Fussy Vegan managing director Ken Goldstein suggested that during the COVID-19 global pandemic shoppers were prompted to find alternatives to traditional meats and dairy items due to item shortages and price rises - turning them to plant-based options.
So as veganism continues to make its mark on the hospitality industry, many venues, of all sizes, are starting to add more options on their menu to cater to this customer base. For example, in 2021 legendary French chef Alain Ducasse opened Sapid in Paris, a restaurant with a menu that’s 95% plant-based. The team behind California’s three-Michelin-star Single Thread have also announced they’re opening a dedicated plant-based restaurant in Healdsburg, USA.
When looking closer to home the demand for vegan restaurant and menu options continues to grow rapidly. According to Happy Cow, as of January 2023, there are over 275 vegan-friendly venues in Australia. With 89 in New South Wales and 72 in Victoria, the number continues to grow.
Veganism is an expanding market for venues and having good vegan options available helps broaden your customer base. Venues may also risk losing out on customers and group bookings (with as little as one vegan) if they don’t have any vegan options on the menu.
“What happens is, if you have a friend who is a vegan you will lose that customer if you have no options,” James Pham, co-owner of vegan restaurant Brother Bon, told Kraft Heinz. “You will get enquiries [about your vegan options] and if you say ‘no’, they will simply book somewhere else. So nowadays, it’s worth investing and spending time to make vegan options available” he explained.
A 2022 study jointly undertaken by researchers from three Australian Universities, noted "our study really shows that if you run a restaurant, having just one single vegan or vegetarian option on the menu just isn’t going to cut it anymore.” The report found that “expectations have changed, so consumers will simply go elsewhere where more options are provided."
To help cater for the vegan market there are many alternatives to animal products available on the market. These include vegan versions of sausages, burger patties, mince-meat, bacon, cheese, milk, yoghurt, butter and more.
These mock meats or plant-based options can be used in the same way as their non-vegan equivalents. However, some of the mock products may be highly processed so it’s important to read the ingredients beforehand.
“There are endless varieties of mock meats [and products] available but, not all of them are great so you do have to do your research,” James advised. He added that despite that these products have “given us more things to explore and try…and stuff like the burgers really help make it easier for places to offer vegan options to their customers.”
By providing a vegan menu, restaurants can show innovation and forward thinking. Altering your current menu to provide more vegan options can be as simple as substituting meat or dairy options, though it’s important you take the time to assess your options and determine what is worth changing versus what isn’t.
This is because when it comes to your customers, they can be left feeling uninspired and disappointed if the meat or dairy products have simply been removed from the dish.
To alter your menu to be more vegan-inclusive, there are four steps to take into consideration:
It’s also important to understand that moving to plant-based options allows you to discover new and diverse ways of cooking (and eating). Because it brings out a new sense of creativity.
“You need to be really authentic” Yoko Inoue owner and chef from Shoku Iku told Kraft Heinz. “For flavour, customers are looking for vibrancy and fresh produce. The food needs to look appealing and colourful and [you need to be] using fresh produce.”
“This is because meat has that fierce flavour that’s very easy to cook well. But with vegan food you don’t have that flavour, so using ingredients like mushrooms or fermented foods can help create depth of the flavour [to your plant-based dish],” Yoko explained.
She continued, “So, explore other ingredients too; instead of rice, try quinoa, or buckwheat... Introduce different ingredients to make it a little bit more interesting.”
As veganism continues to grow here in Australia, having plant-based options on your menu has become a necessity. By not having these options available to customers you remove yourself from an influential target market, ultimately impacting your bottom-line.
So, take the time to research meat and dairy alternatives, study your menu to see what can be altered (without losing its overall quality) and make changes that cater to your customer base and surroundings. Remember it’s important not to rush your decisions and learn how to trial and test to make sure your customers, both new and returning, are receiving the quality you want to be known for.
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