Plant-based is still one of the most exciting areas of the food industry. After a few years of phenomenal growth, the quality of innovation and pace at which the market continues to evolve is truly inspiring.
With the trend for people choosing a plant-based lifestyle set to continue, be it for health, ethical or sustainability reasons, pub operators need to ensure they have a compelling meat free offer to help keep them relevant to consumers and standing out from their competitors.
At Whitbread we now serve around two million plant-based main dishes every year, with around half of our starter and 10% of all our burger sales also meat free and growing.
We focus on appealing to all our guests with our plant-based dishes, as it is now a mainstream trend here to stay. This is why we also tend to refer to our dishes as plant-based, rather than vegan, as the opportunity isn’t just the vegan market, but the increasing number of flexitarians too.
Our sustainability programme ‘Force For Good’ aims to ensure we have a positive impact on the world around us and by continuing to grow and develop our choice of plant-based dishes it helps make our menus more inclusive for a wider range of guests.
Not just for 'Veganuary'
Whilst it is great if you are currently able to offer additional menu options for Veganuary (as we are at Whitbread), for many consumers a plant-based lifestyle isn’t just about January, so now more than ever it is important to offer a great variety of plant-based dishes on menus throughout the year.
Our menus are all about offering customers choice, and at our brands such as Beefeater, whilst we embrace its meat focused heritage, we also recognise the need to continually evolve our menus to meet the changing needs of our guests.
As such we have continued to extend our range of plant-based dishes, including our excellent Veganuary menu (also available at Brewers Fayre and Bar + Block) and with initiatives such as the launch of our vegan-friendly Beefeater 74 BBQ sauce.
Pub caterers should look at the opportunity for plant-based dishes across all dayparts, including breakfast. Breakfast is sometimes the first time a guest will eat in our restaurant and so has been a key opportunity to showcase our plant-based options.
In November we added a new plant-based Garden Gourmet Sensational Cumberland Sausage to our menus, this was also introduced at the same time on the breakfast menu at Premier Inn. The taste and flavour of the sausage is fantastic, and we have even had customers query if it is meat as it looks and tastes like it.
We believe any plant-based dish that goes on our menu should taste just as special as any meat dish and use a ‘smile test’ when creating our dishes.
Exciting year ahead
This is where even though a customer knows a dish is plant-based when they take a bite of it, they smile because they can’t actually believe it is plant-based and there is no compromise on taste, texture, or flavour.
Garden Gourmet passed this test, and I’m really excited by our plans to create the next great plant-based dishes that deliver that smile factor to our guests.
Some of the dishes making me smile on our Veganuary menus include nachos loaded with our spicy Sloppy Joe mix and topped with vegan cheese; charcoal cooked chimichurri vegetables, which have a lovely smoky flavour, our delicious Garden Gourmet Sensational burger, now one of our hero burgers, and our desserts which include a rather delicious peanut butter sundae.
2022 looks set to be another exciting year for plant-based food, with lots more innovation to come, as chefs and suppliers continue to experiment with new ingredients and techniques, including using more vegetables and pulses as meat alternatives.
I believe we will continue to see a shift in plant-based dish quality and choice and Whitbread is proud to be part of this innovation as we continue to develop our great choice of plant-based dishes which raise a smile with our guests.