The vegan wave: how has it affected the pub trade?

By Alice Leader

- Last updated on GMT

Planted-based patty: pubs are exploring a variety of avenues to satisfy vegan trends
Planted-based patty: pubs are exploring a variety of avenues to satisfy vegan trends

Related tags Vegan Pub Menu

The Economist predicted 2019 would be the year veganism went mainstream. And, with ever-growing, free-from options and a new wave of vegan hospitality, it looks like the forecasters are correct.

According to a survey conducted by the Vegan Society, veganism is now one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements”, tempting even meat-lovers to trial meatless cuisines.

Now, more and more publicans are introducing vegan options to their menus in order to meet the demand of the evolving plant-based palates.

The motive

So what is driving consumers towards meatless dishes?

According to an exclusive survey by The Morning Advertiser​, health is a key driver with 40% of those asked saying it’s the main reason for ordering a meat-free dish when eating out, while 29% say it is better for the planet and 26% better for animals.

The Dog at Wingham, Kent, is fuelling these motives by holding its first vegan-themed night this month (October).

Owner Marc Bridgen said: “It’s a hot topic for the younger generation and it is deemed a significant way to help [reduce] your [carbon] footprint.

“With our demographic being aged 50 and over, there are a few people who turn their nose up at it. But, I think the younger people, 40 and under, are much more open to trying it.

“They’re open to the fact that there’s nothing weird about it and people are inclined to try it because they do understand that less meat in our diet is going to benefit the environment and ourselves.”

Moving forward, the pub aims to take the most influential dishes from the night and add these to its à la carte menu – previously its vegan options were only available on a pre-order basis.

“We’re making more of an effort so vegans don’t feel like they’re being singled out to pre-order.”

What’s on the market?

As the range of meat-alternative products broaden and improve, the foods have become more accessible and encouraged vegan home cooking. According to BBC reports, more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian.  

The vegan products are endless. Vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, vegan McDonald’s Happy Meal, and even vegan KFC nuggets. But research from Kerry Foods found current products in the meat-free category are not delivering on the taste and texture desired by consumers. In turn, Kerry Foods launched Naked Glory with the aim of encouraging carnivores to ‘cheat on meat’.


Kerry Foods marketing manager Alison Lees said: “We understand the food craft, the science, and the tech that it takes to create great-tasting products that are meat-free but replicate the juicy supplements and the meaty bite.”

Lees continued: “Our market data has shown that where it would have always been vegetarians and vegans, now it’s meat-eaters who want to eat less meat.”

Their research showed that people who haven’t completely eliminated meat from their diets are actively making the choice to eat more plant-based foods with the desire for better health and a view of sustainability.

Kerry Foods commercial director Ian Garrett said: “The market research would indicate that due to the number of meat-free dinners that were consumed in 2018, we are seeing that trend ever-increasingly move forward.

“It’s a real thing and it’s here to stay.”

Inspire your vegan menu

One of the prime insights its consumer research revealed was that people, who are new to reducing meat in their diet, have questioned: Do I have to do anything differently? Is it going to be really complicated for me in the kitchen? Therefore, when the opportunity unveils itself for customers to trial meat-free options in pubs, it offers them the perfect excuse to capture those new meat-reducers at its best.

But with this higher demand, comes a bigger challenge for publicans and their chefs in assuring these plant-based dishes are interesting and tasty for the consumer.

Where can you find inspiration? How can you alter your menu to assure you’re offering the best range of meat-free dishes?

Well, wholly vegan pub, Caledonia, in Liverpool, offers the ultimate vegan junk food menu.

The exclusive research revealed 20% of people say they would be more likely to visit a pub if it promoted its plant-based dishes, and Caledonia is doing just that with a prime aim of making sure its menu is familiar to its carnivore customers.

The Caledonia licensee Laura King said: “We prepare meals that people are familiar with such as a bacon double cheeseburger, a barbecue burger or a classic American-style hot dog. It’s the food that people know tastes great and easy to execute as well.” 

Going fully vegan in September 2017, King was concerned that she would alienate her customers. She said her key motivation was to show everyone that it can still be a traditional pub but be vegan.

King continued: “We obviously get more vegans but the traffic that we get for food isn’t entirely vegan - its people who are looking to lessen their impact on the environment and eat less meat.

“It just makes them feel good.”

Making a transition

So, what does it all boil down to when making the decision for a vegan transition?

Club Mexicana founder Meriel Armitage joined forces with publicans Luke McLoughlin and Sherri-Lee Estabrook to launch 100% vegan pub, the Spread Eagle, in Hackney, east London, in January 2018.

They saw veganism prevailing, which gave them the confidence to transform the traditional east end pub into a completely vegan offering.

Spread Eagle owner Luke McLoughlin said: “There’s a real move towards making more ethical choices with meat-eaters making vegan choices more regularly in order to help the planet and having healthier diets. Plus, the general reputation of veganism has changed from the old tasteless bland food to something more creative, fresh and unique.”

Getting creative

With consumers demanding more meat alternatives when eating out – whether it is vegan or vegetarian, this new wave of vegan hospitality has given meat-eaters a non-intimidating environment to try vegan grub.

McLoughlin continued: “It was great to see a string of pubs opt for a vegan menu after we did it last year. People want choice now and, hopefully, it means the more traditional menus will become more flexible in their offerings for all.”

So if your pub is on the cusp and debating some ‘green’ changes, whether to go full vegan, hold a vegan-themed night, or integrate some vegan dishes into your à la carte menu, veganism has risen in tandem and it’s down to your pub if you decide to embrace the trend.

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