This comes after a 2022 report by Chef’s Pencil analysing Google Trends revealed interest in veganism could be dwindling, with companies including Pret and Nestle axing some of their plant-based offerings.
Out of 349 respondents to the survey, more than three quarters (78%) of operators said the consumer demand for meat-free dishes was not declining, while less than a quarter (22%) said that it was.
East Anglia-based business Anglian Country Inns (ACI), which won Best Premium Food Offer at this year’s Publican Awards, had seen customers opt for vegan and veggie meals with all the usual fervour.
While ACI head of food Kumour Uddin hadn’t noticed a spike in guests opting for plant-based options, he said demand for vegan dishes was “still very strong” and had grown in line with the business’ overall sales.
All menus across the company’s nine sites have a vegan option, and vegetarian options can be easily amended to suit vegan palettes.
Suiting all palettes
“We’re not removing any [vegan dishes],” said Uddin, “if anything, we’re adding, to make sure we’ve got balance and what the customer wants.”
The head chef had noticed a trend in customers wanting to eat healthier, and this often came with eating less meat. “A lot of people just genuinely want to have a better, balanced diet,” added Uddin, but this wasn’t to say they should be pigeonholed as “plant-based” or “vegan”.
The situation is similar at Southern operator Brucan Pubs. James Lyon-Shaw, the pub group’s director, said sales data showed demand for meat-free dishes had stayed fairly consistent, after a strong increase last year.
“Perhaps what has declined is the volumes of voice behind the drive for change, as people battle with other priorities, which perhaps feel more pressing on both a global and domestic scale,” he added.
While Brucan Pubs has a broad range of options on its menus to try to cater for all tastes, Lyon-Shaw said there would always be a minority who felt that unless the menu was heavily weighted in favour of meat-free dishes, the menu did not cater to their needs sufficiently.
Lyon-Shaw added: “In reality, each business and kitchen has a limit on the number of menu items it can delivery consistently at the quality that we strive for, and within this limit we need to ensure all of our guests have as much choice as we can offer, not just those who are most vocal about their own preferences.”
Darwin & Wallace founder Mel Marriot has also seen consistent demand for vegetarian and vegan dishes. She considered this to be a demonstration of a flexitarian approach rather than super restrictive diets, with some guests opting for lighter options mid week as part of a healthier lifestyle.
That said, the company's rare breed beef burger is still its no.1 selling menu item, with the halloumi burger coming in at a close second. "For us, it it really will always be about offering excellent alternatives and letting the guest decide," Marriot added.