Veganuary and beyond
There was a time when nothing was less hip than a meet-free diet. However, with more than 3.5 million Brits identifying themselves as vegans and more than 71m #vegan posts on Instagram, plant-based diets can now officially be considered cool.
Personal health and the environmental impact of meat are the main drivers edging people towards veganism. However, the influence of social media and celebrity endorsement cannot be underestimated, or the impact of the current Veganuary campaign.
In a previous Pragmatist, we highlighted the effect of increased demand for meat-free products on the sales of vegan food brands. Over the past 12 months the London restaurant scene has seen the opening of a plethora of vegan offerings equating to an increase of 55% over this period. In addition, the capital now boasts its first vegan pub, The Spread Eagle in Homerton, a vegan doughnut shop, and an entire new street food scene devoted to meat free foods. An increasing number of established chains, including Zizzi, Wagamama and Nando's, are also introducing vegan-friendly options to tap into this trend.
An emerging theme, particularly among the younger generation, is comfort vegan food or otherwise known as "dirty" vegan food (think kebabs, fried "chicken", pies and doughnuts). 91% of vegans say they struggle to find fast-food options and as a result, several restaurants have emerged to exploit this demand. Camden market has a whole host of `dirty' vegan food options, including the Young Vegans (whose name cleverly captures the target audience) and Temple of Seitan, London’s first fried "chicken" joint. Dirty Bones, a casual dining restaurant in Shoreditch known for their American inspired plates, announced a new vegan concept called Dirty Vegan which takes place twice a month, and offers eaters a whole host of plant-based comfort food including a vegan take on the classic mac & cheese.
At the other end of the spectrum is the clean eating vegan offering. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the health benefits of a plant-based diet, which have been endorsed be the World Health Organisation. Farmacy Kitchen in Notting Hill, whose tagline "clean indulgence" appeals to the health-conscious millennial, offers a range of "earth bowls", "health syringes" and salads which are tasty, highly nutritious and extremely Instagrammable. Yeotown Kitchen in Marylebone takes it a step further; customers are treated to a selection of wholesome foods and energy-filled snacks, in addition to organic, freshly pressed juices and a super-smoothie bar. However, its USP is meditation pods where customers can relax and recharge after their meal.
As veganism becomes increasingly mainstream and the number of `flexitarians' grows, we are likely to see the number of vegan restaurants and vegan options on menus grow to cater for this demand. It is important for restaurants to remain dynamic during this change to retain a competitive edge and expand their customer base, as it is often the vegan in a friendship group who dictates where a group eats.