Speaking at the recent launch of Foodprint, a new initiative launched by the SRA in association with the Cool Food Pledge, SRA chief executive Andrew Stephen said that while there have been moves by the industry on greener initiatives, not enough was being done.
“In recent years we’ve seen a move towards menus that are greener, including more veg and, significantly, reduced environmental impact,” he said. “And while some operators like Zizzi, Leon and Wagamama are reaping the reward, the pace and depth of change has been insufficient.
“Realising the environmental costs and potential benefits of the food we buy is key to building a great restaurant business fit for the future."
Foodprint is designed to help restaurants and the wider foodservice sector measure and reduce the climate impact of their menus, both individually and collectively, through a system that tracks procurement data. By providing accurate figures regarding the different foodstuffs it purchases (including meats, eggs and dairy products), operators will be able to see a breakdown of where their food emissions are primarily coming from.
The aim is to eventually help operators gradually flip their menus away from meat-focused dishes and towards more veg-led meals.
According to the SRA, countless reports published in the past 18 months – by various educational and governmental bodies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – point to a need for people to consume less meat, with more than 25% of global emissions come from food, and over half of this comes from animal products.
Speaking at the launch, Tim Lang, who is professor of food policy at the University of London, said: “If we’re going to fix climate change, we have to fix food and that means drastically changing the amount and quality of meat we eat.”
Profiting from greener menus
The SRA has cited a number of operators that have already succeeded in selling more veg-based dishes including Leon, which has increased sales of its vegan and vegetarian meals by 21% and 18% respectively, and Wagamama, which has seen a 60% rise in the proportion of customers choosing a vegan option.
In a trading statement released today (30 July), High street bakery chain Greggs said it had delivered an “exceptional trading performance” in the first half of 2019, off the back of the popularity of its vegan sausage roll. The group achieved like-for-like sales growth 10.5%, and total sales up 14.7% to £546m. It is believed the company has so far sold around 13 million of its vegan sausage rolls since its launch at the start of the year.
KFC has also made successful changes to its menu, recently announcing that it had sold out of its vegan ‘Imposter’ burger just four days after launching it at several of its UK sites.
“We recognise that this is a change that is here to stay,” according Amy de Marsac, head of investor relations and sustainability at Mitchells & Butlers, the pub, bar and restaurant group that operates 14 brands including Harvester, All Bar One and Toby Carvery.
The challenges of vegan
While there are many opportunities to be had from catering to vegans, restaurateurs also recognise some of the challenges. Harvester recently introduced a dedicated vegan menu and de Marsac said that while it had been well received there had been issues over pricing.
“Many diners are under the impression that vegan options will be inherently cheaper, when this is simply not the case.” Harvester’s new ‘Purist’ burger, which features a Moving Mountains plant-based patty, is priced the same as one of the restaurant’s beef burger meals.
There is also a feeling among some in the industry that the vegan market has been overstated, with figures suggesting that just 1.16% of people in 2018 identified as vegans. Reading-based Vegan burger restaurant Miami Burger recently closed in having only opened in January with its owner stating that its customer base was too narrow to sustain the rent.
Traditional meat restaurants that are starting to offer vegan options are better place, with around 21% of the UK claiming to be flexitarian and looking to reduce - rather than cut out altogether - their meat consumption. Burger brands such as Honest Burgers and Patty & Bun have reported initial success with their plant-based meat alternatives.
Fried chicken brand Chik’n is preparing to launch its new plant-based ‘No Way’ burger. Co-owner Carl Clarke, who also spoke at the Foodprint launch, said that as well as a focus on flavour, the new crop of meat-less alternatives must have the right texture if their success with consumers is to be sustainable.
This move away from meat-based offerings is sustainable for the sector, with 52% of diners wishing to reduce the levels of meat intake in their diet, according to the SRA.
“Chefs and menu-creators have the power and responsibility to shift our eating habits away from meat and dairy and towards more veg-based options,” added professor Lang. “The SRA’s Foodprint programme is a very welcome initiative to help shift the sector at scale towards more planet-friendly menus and positively influence the eating habits of the nation.”
For more information on how to get involved with the SRA’s Foodprint campaign, click here