In Focus
INTERNATIONAL | Kevin Santos, Australia

Veganism is becoming more mainstream, and restaurant brands like Domino's, Zambrero and Lord of the Fries are taking it seriously

What’s the next step for brands looking to take a piece of the growing demand for plant-based food?

What once was a fringe movement tagged as ‘boring’ or ‘extreme’, veganism has now become a global phenomenon and has been recognised for its positive impact on sustainability and animal welfare.

The multi-site restaurant space is a testament to its mainstream power, with brands ensuring that they have offerings that cater to ever-increasing demand across multiple markets today.

Australia-based Lord of the Fries (LOTF) is one of them and is known in the space as one of the only vegan fast food chains. They started in 2004, long before vegan fast food was a booming market.

Now, they are also the Australian partner of Beyond Meat, a U.S.-based startup that has created a meat-free offering that features a patty made from plant-based protein.

“When we started LOTF it was hard to find fries made without beef tallow. Veggie burgers were all peas (and) corn and veg dogs were scarce. These days vegetarian is common, vegan is more niche but you can find vegan options in so many mainstream businesses,” co-founder Amanda Walker told QSR Media.

Whilst she believes the QSR industry would be “wise” to adopt veganism, Walker thinks simply having vegan options may not be enough to persuade increased patronage.

“People are looking at QSRs more critically in terms of their sustainability perspective, ethical stance, treatment of staff as well. We work hard in all [the] aforementioned as we aim to be a leader in the industry and [we] know changes need to be made if we want our civilisation to thrive,” she added.

Aside from running LOTF, Walker also confirmed that they will launch a plant-based baked goods business at Melbourne CBD called Weirdoughs in November.

Domino's previously introduced their Vegan Cheesy Garlic Bread. Photo credit: Domino's

Domino's added itself to the list of brands adapting to the vegan-friendly trend by vegan cheese to its menu in Australia last January due to an “overwhelming response” from a survey they conducted in Facebook. The item was initially added to their menu for a limited time but has since become a permanent addition.

“Our pizza sauce and bases are vegan-friendly so all of the pizzas on our menu can in fact be altered to suit a vegan diet. Many people do not realise that our Garlic Bread is also vegan-friendly, and we have recently introduced Vegan Cheesy Garlic Bread, so vegans can now enjoy the cheesy version of our most popular accompaniment,” said Domino’s CEO for Australia and New Zealand, Nick Knight.

They also have a dedicated page for Vegan Cheese Enthusiasts, a hub set up by the pizza chain for customers to share vegan pizza hacks, experiences, new topping ideas, community events and updates.

“Our menu is not a one-size-fits-all and we’re all about offering our customers choice. We’re always evolving our menu to keep up with changing tastes and give our customers more choices to suit their dietary and nutritional requirements. A move to plant-based and meat-free products is one of the biggest trends in food, and we believe it’s here to stay,” Knight added.

Zambrero also responded to the growing vegan market by releasing their own vegan cheese. And this upcoming World Vegan Day on November 1, they will release their vegan-friendly take on sour cream.

“We have seen an increase in the desire for vegan-friendly products, not only by vegans but also those that are lactose intolerant and health conscious,” a Zambrero spokesperson said. “It can be tricky to find consistency in plant-based alternatives, especially that taste really good, so consumers are definitely responsive when brands spend time and effort exploring ways in which to offer variety for all dietary requirements.”

LEON is one of many UK-based restaurants that are catering to the growing vegan market. Photo credit. Supplied

Similar to Australia, brands in the United Kingdom such as LEON are responding to the growing global vegan market by developing more plant-based offerings that do not compromise on flavour.

“The LEON mission has always been to make it easy for everyone to eat and live well. That means creating dishes that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their dietary preferences. We’ve also championed meat as a side dish and often talk about ways to make vegetables taste good, so the rise of veganism in the UK has been a welcome challenge,” LEON’s Head of Food Erica Molyneux said.

Whilst not identifying as a vegan chain, LEON is no stranger to plant-based offerings. For breakfast, they offer vegan porridge made with cashew milk.

Later in the day, they offer a ‘plant burger’, Brazilian black beans, sweet potato falafel “hot box” and meatless meatballs. By Christmas, their Vegan Christmas Wrap will be back.

Catering to the “new” vegan
A number of research companies have predicted that ‘going vegan’ would be the year’s top trend in food and beverage.

Euromonitor International found that Australia was the third fastest growing market in the world after the United Arab Emirates and China. They also predicted that Australia’s packaged vegan food market will worth $215 million by 2020.

According to a report by MCA Menu Tracker, vegan options on menus in UK restaurants have increased by 237% this year compared to 2017.

“One thing that really drives the global aspect of veganism is the passion brought to the conversation by vegans in general and their willingness to share the message,” Fran Harper of supplier Paramount 21 explained. “The quality, range and understanding of vegan food has grown massively making a vegan diet more accessible to people with busy lifestyles and generally more appealing.”

Whilst affirming that restaurant should consider the growth of veganism, she reminds restaurant brands that such vegan offerings should stand up against non-vegan products.

“The ‘new vegan’ is demanding a much higher quality/tasting product than would have been acceptable even a few years ago. Not all brands need to be pitched to the vegan space; flexitarianism is now recognised as a trend. There is a very strong business case to have a strong offering in the vegan space.”

With veganism now mainstream, she says further development and innovation will build vegan products as “everyday” options.

“New products will be developed with increasing levels of fortification to aid the vegan diet (protein, zinc, iron, omega 3s, calcium and B12) making it easier to maintain a healthy vegan diet,” she concluded. 

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