The popularity of veganism shows no sign of waning with orders of plant-based dishes for delivery up 163% on last year.
In the first week of January, the month of Veganuary, there has already been a 153% rise in searches for ‘vegan’ food on the Deliveroo app compared with the previous month, according to the delivery company.
Despite lockdown restrictions, and the potential difficulties of doing regular fruit and veg shops, more than half a million people have signed up for this year’s Veganuary and pledged to give up all animal food produce for the first month of the year.
This may mean that with restaurants closed, consumers bent on a new year’s health kick are turning to ‘healthy’ vegan takeaway options.
“With the climate crisis and global pandemic making headlines every day and many feeling helpless, Veganuary offers people a way to take positive action,” says Toni Vernelli, head of communications at Veganuary.
“The huge response we’ve had this year shows it’s exactly what many people need right now.”
Growing appetite for vegan food
While there is traditionally an appetite for vegan food at this time of year as people look to follow a healthier plant-based diet on the back of Christmas excess, the market for vegan food in restaurants could span well beyond Veganuary. According to survey results from Veganuary 2020, 72% of participants planned to follow a vegan lifestyle beyond January with one of the main reasons given for this decision being that they had discovered satisfying nice plant-based dishes can be.
However, it would appear that the restaurant industry is not yet meeting demand for plant-based dishes, with the survey revealing that eating out remains one of the biggest challenges faced by participants.
High street giants such as Greggs, which launched its hugely popular vegan sausage roll in January 2019, have been some of the most proactive in this area. McDonalds and KFC both released vegan burgers in January 2020 but have yet to make them a permanent part of their offering. Late last year, McDonald’s announced it will introduce a line of plant-based meat alternatives called ‘McPlant’, which are likely to be available later this year.
However, in the past year the restaurant industry has begun to recognise fully the growing plant-based trend with the number of restaurants on Deliveroo who cater to vegans doubling in number to more than 12,000.
Since the start of January, a number of popular restaurants on the app have introduced Veganuary specials. Wagamama has launched a vegan menu which includes ‘vegatsu’, its popular katsu curry made from seitan in panko breadcrumbs; chili ‘squid’, made from oyster mushrooms; and sticky ‘ribs’, made from mushroom and soya protein. The restaurant chain has also committed to making 50% of its menu meat-free by the end of 2021.
“We believe that vegan choices should be so delicious that everyone should want to include [them] in their lives, whether a strict vegan or someone who has never thought of themselves as a vegan before,” says Emma Woods, Wagamama CEO.
Following a 23% increase in vegan and vegetarian orders at Tortilla this year, the burrito and taco chain has partnered with London-based tempeh producer Club Cultured to create a Veganuary special. Its vegan chilli ‘no carne’ is the fifteenth vegan option available at the 38-strong restaurant group, making more than 70% of its menu now vegan.
“We pride ourselves on having an option for everyone – vegans, flexitarians and meat eaters alike,” says Tortilla head of food Martyn Clover.
Sri Lankan bar and restaurant group The Coconut Tree has introduced a vegan ‘roots’ menu. Specialising in street food, the menu comprises 16 plant-based options including a pineapple curry; the fat sister pumpkin curry; and kotthu - a street food dish made with finely chopped roti and vegetables. The new menu is available at all six of the Coconut Tree’s locations across England and Wales.
“Sri Lankan street food is naturally abundant in vegan options,” says brand director Anna Garrod. “But going into 2021, we wanted to make it even easier for those on a plant-based diet - for a day, a month, or for life - to feel confident ordering a Sri Lankan street food feast without having to scan past a variety of dishes that they couldn’t eat.”
Danish-style bakery Ole and Steen, meanwhile, has launched a vegan o’duja (olive n’duja) toastie. As for drinks, Majestic Wine has launched a range of vegan wines including its Beefsteak Club malbec, Definition pinot grigio and Levante prosecco.
Vegan meal kits
Beyond hot food delivery, restaurant brands are also tapping into the demand for vegan meal kits. Burger brands such as Patty & Bun and Honest Burger, for example, now offer plant-based versions of their popular burger meal kits.
Dirty Vegan, the vegan sister restaurant to London restaurant Dirty Bones, has developed a meal kit for nationwide delivery. Based on the same ‘NYC-inspired comfort food and cocktail concept’ as its sibling, Dirty Vegan has partnered with Beyond Meat, the Los Angeles producer of plant-based meat products; Vida Bakery, London’s dairy free, egg free and gluten free bakery; and MEDA CBD Drinks to create its ‘Ultimate Vegan Kit’.
Healthy fast-food chain Leon has stepped up its plant-based offering this year by updating the recipe for its vegan LOVe burger and releasing a new vegan Sweet Carolina BBQ burger.
Looking at new ways of engaging customers, the brand has hopped on the meal kit trend with its ‘LOVe Burger At-home Kit’. The delivery box contains all the ingredients needed to recreate its best-selling burger.
Leon has also launched a vegan subscription service. The £6-a-month service gives customers 30% off vegan menu items across all of Leon’s UK sites. This ties into a reward scheme, offering subscribers free jars of aioli and Leon cookbooks, as well as randomly selecting one in every 500 subscribers with a green card that provides free vegan food for a month.
Longevity in the category
Activity in the sector suggests the vegan trend is not going away. According to The Vegan Society, 2020 became the year that every one of the top UK restaurants/food-to-go outlets had a vegan (or plant-based) offering. It also predicts that vegans and vegetarians will make up a quarter of the British population by 2025.
Restaurants are adapting their menus to cater for this growing demand, but it remains to be seen whether the pandemic, which so many have said will accelerate the move towards sustainability, will have a lasting impact not only on the food restaurants serve, but also on the industry’s practices.
Wagamama’s Woods, for one, believes it will: “As Covid-19 causes us all to press pause on so many things, let’s make sure we fast forward the small decisions which can better our planet.”