Predicting what’s going to be on pub menus in the coming year can be tricky and now we know that Brexit will go ahead, it will almost certainly affect what pub customers eat in 2020. But there are potentially two even bigger factors at play: the growth of plant-based diets and environmental concerns.
Vegan food has already become a huge growth area for pubs, but the movement is expected to gather momentum in 2020 as more and more young people in particular adopt a plant-based diet.
According to Leatherhead Food Research, 74% of households have reduced the amount of red meat they consume and more than a third of households have introduced one or more vegetarian days per week.
Oakman Inns chef director Ross Pike says: “Our vegan customers are definitely on the increase and we fully expect that to continue. What’s more, the research we’ve done shows that if there’s a group of people going out for a meal and there’s one vegan among them, that person determines where that group goes.”
At the Cott Inn in Dartington, Devon – crowned Great British Pub of the Year at the Great British Pub Awards 2019 – owners Mark and Mel Annear responded to growing demand for good vegan food by introducing a 100% vegan menu on Thursday evenings.
They even employed a specialist vegan chef to create dishes for their vegan menu which ran from April to September this year and included the likes of cauliflower fritters with dressed leaves and caper and garlic aioli, vegan clam chowder, and vegetable and tofu linguine with tomato, hazelnut and basil pesto, rocket and Parmesan.
The pub also offers a large selection of vegan food throughout the year on its main menu, which Mark believes is essential these days.
“Veganism is huge, especially among 19 to 25-year-olds. Some are going vegan for health reasons but mostly for environmental reasons, because they want to save the planet,” explains Mark.
Effect on environment
And Pike backs up that view – protecting the planet is becoming an even bigger factor in people’s food choices as they learn more about the effect of food production on the environment.
“A lot of our customers will watch programmes like Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? and it will change their appetite for meat because it shows what devastation the meat industry is causing to the world. So a lot of people are cutting out meat once, twice or three times a week either for health reasons or to help the planet,” he says.
Pike believes there are two types of vegan customer, and the type determines whether they’re looking for an entirely plant-based dish or one that emulates a meat dish.
“The ones who are doing it for health reasons want more of a plant-based dish, whereas the meat eaters who are weaning themselves off meat want faux meat – something that, looks and texture wise, is like meat,” explains Pike.
Pike predicts that the plant-based dish side of things will grow more than the ‘faux meat’ side, as the latter is less healthy (“those products tend to have lots of fats and emulsifiers that wouldn’t be there in a plant-based diet”).
However, the good news for pub chefs wanting to offer both options is that the ‘faux’ products on the market are improving in quality, with a great deal of new product development investment going into this area.
Star Pubs & Bars head of food Mark Teed says that as well as veganism being on the rise, ‘seaganism’ is likely to be a growing trend in 2020.
“Seaganism is set to be one of the biggest trends in 2020: seagans mainly follow a vegan diet, but also consume sustainably sourced seafood. Seacuterie, the seafood version of charcuterie, incorporating smoking, fermenting and ageing, is likely to become more popular as chefs begin to add value to fish as they already do with meat,” explains Teed.
“Also, vegan fish will become more prevalent in 2020 as innovative products that replicate white fish, smoked salmon, tuna and even scallops become available. One popular choice is banana blossom, which mimics fish texture and works well when battered.”
With more than half of 16 to 35-yearolds concerned about the environmental impact of the food they eat (according to Leatherhead Food Research), it’s not surprising that sustainability of ingredients is expected to have an impact on menus in the coming year.
As Teed puts it: “The one overarching consumer trend for 2020 is mindful or responsible consumerism. As we become more mindful of our own health, our family’s and the planet’s wellbeing, we’re reshaping how we eat, shop and cook.”
Focus on provenance
While most pubs are probably unlikely to follow in the footsteps of the Three Stags in Kennington, the south London pub that, in September, banned beef from its menu in protest at the destruction of the Amazon rainforest to make way for cattle farming, the provenance of beef and other animal products on pub menus is likely to come into sharper focus in 2020.
Cirrus Inns head of food Tim Powell says: “Despite innovation and expansion of plant-based and vegan options on our menus, beef remains the bestseller in our varied roast selection, so we wouldn’t anticipate a ban on beef.
“Instead, we are expecting an increased focus on the welfare and husbandry of the cattle used, as well as an increase in support for local producers and buying directly from source, or purchasing British beef from wholesale butchers that take pride in sourcing sustainably and ethically.”
Certainly, sourcing grass-fed ruby red beef from a local farm – along with other local meats and fish – is a big part of the success story at the Cott Inn, and executive chef Adam Parnham believes this approach will actually become a necessity for pubs to survive Brexit.
“This whole Brexit thing will make more chefs think about buying local because it’s going to be harder for chefs to source some ingredients after Brexit and the prices are going to shoot up,” he says.
So when Brexit happens we could see an increase in less familiar British produce on pub menus, such as British grown grains including quinoa and spelt in salads, predicts Pike at Oakman Inns, as well as goat and even spider crabs.
The Cott Inn’s Mark Annear says: “We do goat here and serve it the same way you would lamb – it’s delicious, it’s local and it’s a product we should be eating.
“Hopefully, we will be eating a lot of the produce that’s sent abroad when we come out of Europe, such as spider crabs. They’re caught locally, they’re delicious and they all go to Europe at the moment, but they’ll definitely be on our menu when Brexit happens.”