Christmas is coming and that means lots of big parties of people – all with different tastes and dietary requirements – looking to book a celebratory meal out.
It’s certainly not easy catering for everyone’s likes and dislikes, allergies and intolerances, but one thing you’d be well advised to take note of when planning your Christmas menu is the unprecedented rise in vegan diners.
The number of people following an all plant-based diet in the UK has grown by a whopping 360% in the past decade, and the trend is accelerating.
Brakes’ head of food and brand Sarah Wilkinson says: “Eating less meat is becoming mainstream and thanks to widespread campaigns like ‘Meat Free Monday’ and ‘Veganuary’, more consumers in the UK are now trying plant-based dishes than ever before.
“There has been a growth in consumers choosing to be ‘part-time’ vegans and more people are choosing to become vegan as a lifestyle choice for health and/ or environmental reasons.”
With vegans and vegetarians expected to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025, making sure your festive menus offer at least some options for vegan guests is more important than ever.
Bidfood campaign manager Vicky Tripp says: “The latest statistics show that about 13% of the UK population are now vegetarian or vegan, with a further 21% identifying as flexitarian. These rising numbers demonstrate the need for pubs to move beyond the few token veggie options per menu, and instead approach menu planning with inclusivity front of mind.”
The Vegan Society spokeswoman Dominika Piasecka says: “Pubs across the country have been brilliant at embracing veganism, though we are aware of some independent businesses that haven’t quite caught up with the hugely growing demand and are missing out on sales.
“If a group of friends, including a vegan are eating out, they will not dine at a place with no vegan options, so it really pays for pubs to be offering decent vegan food.”
Jan Wise, owner of the Walnut Tree in Thwaite, Suffolk, is a long-time vegetarian and understands what it’s like to go out for a meal and not find anything very appealing on the menu.
So she offers a completely vegetarian menu at the Walnut Tree, and strives to make the dishes – which are mostly vegan – more exciting than the norm.
“A lot of pubs do tend to go down the curry route as they can make that vegetarian or vegan fairly easily, but vegetarians do get fed up with going out and just eating curries,” says Wise.
She often finds inspiration on the Vegetarian Society website, and has recently starting utilising some of the ready-to-serve desserts available from Brakes. These include the likes of chocolate & coconut tart, and clementine & pomegranate pudding.
Wise says: “Until recently, there haven’t been any vegan desserts available but now Brakes do some vegan dessert options that are good enough to put on your specials board and nobody would know they are vegan.”
The Walnut Tree is still finalising its Christmas menu but it is likely to include some of last year’s popular dishes such as starters of red lentil, orange & ginger soup, and fig, Stilton & walnut cigars, while mains might include sweet potato, lentil, walnut & apple roast with a maple, apple & balsamic glaze, or mushroom, chestnut & Stilton Wellington.
Wise adds: “Two years ago, there weren’t quite so many vegan customers but now there’s a lot. ‑ e whole thing has exploded really and I think it will continue to grow, certainly among young people who these days are very aware of what we are doing to the world.”
Mexican street food
The growth of vegan customers is something Luke McLoughlin and Sherri-Lee Estabrook have certainly witnessed at their pub, the Spread Eagle in Homerton, east London.
Vegan themselves, they responded in 2018 by becoming the first London pub to go 100% vegan.
McLoughlin says: “We’ve been passionate about veganism for years and it’s been wonderful to witness such a warm response. We couldn’t have asked for more in terms of customer satisfaction, not only from fellow vegans but also from the old regulars – some of whom have been coming to the pub for over 40 years – as well as curious new folk.” Mexican-inspired vegan street food company Club Mexicana provides all the catering for the Spread Eagle, so this year’s Christmas menu will be full of creative Mexican flair.
“The Christmas menu is still a work in progress for 2019 but last year we had a five-course set menu in true Mexican style. The main dish was skin-on stuffed roast ‘turkey’ with sweet potato and cumin purée, winter greens, chipotle cranberry salsa and white peppercorn gravy. We also had ‘chorizo’ and potato croquettes with sweetcorn & black bean salsa, plus much more deliciousness,” explains McLoughlin.
“With the growing vegan market, I would be surprised if every venue isn’t offering at least one vegan alternative on their Christmas menu this year. My main piece of advice for pubs wanting to offer some vegan dishes this Christmas would be to be creative and try to think outside the box.”
If you’re stuck for ideas, the top trending vegan ingredients at the moment, according to Brakes, are coconut, turmeric, mushroom and ginger.
Wilkinson says: “When catering for vegans and vegetarians it’s important to make sure your dishes include some protein. Plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, chickpeas, seeds and nuts.
“Meat alternatives like soya, Quorn and tofu can be a useful protein source for those adopting a plant-based diet.
However, some of these products may contain animal ingredients, such as eggs or milk, so it’s important to check the product label.”
Ice cream certainly doesn’t need to be off the menu for vegan customers this Christmas, with companies like Jude’s making dairy-free versions that are now available to the on-trade.
Jude’s managing director Chow Mezger says: “We’ve seen demand growing hugely in this area. We’ve even seen some restaurants switch to offering only vegan ice cream, as the quality of our vegan range meets the expectations of all their customers, vegan and non-vegan.
“Our vegan vanilla or salted caramel ice cream is the perfect pairing to lots of winter puddings, and we are soon to release a beautiful cinnamon flavour that will be wonderful for the Christmas period.”
And Bidfood’s Tripp says the company’s plant-based Christmas range not only meets the needs of vegan consumers but other dietary requirements too.
“Bidfood’s latest Christmas range includes a wide selection of dishes – everything from Moving Mountains mini ‘bleeding’ meatless burgers and spiced cauliflower en-croute, to butternut squash stuffed with spiced and herbed Mediterranean vegetables.
“Many of these dishes are designed with other dietary requirements in mind – for example, our decadent chocolate and clementine torte is both vegan and gluten-free, meaning it can be enjoyed by almost everyone.”