In Focus
MENU INNOVATIONS | Staff Reporter, Australia

La Porchetta is responding to veganism's growing rise whilst retaining its Italian authenticity

Find out the chain's latest approach in offering a more inclusive menu.

Authenticity has always been at the root of La Porchetta. Dating back to when it was founded in 1985 by Italian-born Rocky Pantaleo and Felice Nania, taking over a run-down pizza shop in Melbourne, the brand has placed particular importance towards recreating the traditional Italian dining culture in all its restaurants.

At the core of the brand’s philosophy is that in the same way customers value good food made from fresh ingredients, so do they value the communal experience of dining together with loved ones

To maintain that tradition of community and inclusiveness, La Porchetta announced that it has launched a new vegan menu catering to the growing number of people refusing to eat animal-based products.

“Our introduction of vegan dishes is in line with the growing trend to vegetarianism, veganism and “flexitarianism”, where people want to eat vegetarian or vegan once or twice a week. It’s what our customers are telling us they want,” Sara Pantaleo, CEO of La Porchetta, exclusively told QSR Media. “Before we introduced our new menu, a section of our clientele was coming in and not being acknowledged and now they are.”

Veganism has been sweeping the fast food and fast casual restaurant industry in recent years due to its positive impact on sustainability and animal welfare, wit brands - big or small - taking notice.

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

Pantaleo said that while ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’, the rise of veganism has become an interesting frontier for QSRs, as most people understand how to cater to vegetarians, but not vegans.

“It’s a trend that is definitely here to stay,” she said.

La Porchetta made the move to introduce vegan options to its menu after one of their restaurants that offered such dishes in their specials board received significant attention.

“We review our menu every year and this year, we added a range of vegan options. That came about because one of our restaurants introduced vegan dishes to their specials board and we received a lot of feedback, both instore and online about how much people liked and appreciated these dishes. Our customers were asking us if other restaurants were also planning to introduce these dishes,” Pantaleo explained.

As a restaurant chain with over 40 locations nationwide, La Porchetta’s process of introducing new dishes to its menu was no small feat. Aside from the logistics side of things, there were challenges involved in formulating vegan recipes that were as appealing and as authentic as its traditional Italian recipes.

“Any new dish we introduce needs to fit into our traditional, Italian-style menu,” Pantaleo said.

“We went through a development process that took almost a year before releasing the new menu in mid-October. Some of the recipes were adapted from the restaurant that offered vegan specials, while others were developed from scratch. We also worked closely with our suppliers to see what products we could get.”

She underscored their goal of ensuring that there are still familiar Italian flavours in the dishes. For instance, one of La Porchetta’s best-selling items, the Arancini, has been customised, but retains its authentic Italian taste. The same goes for all the newly developed dishes.

True to its commitment to the local community, the brand also took care to consider the demands of its customers.

“We asked ourselves, what do people most like and how can we offer those dishes in a modern way. We conducted consumer focus groups and we went direct to our customers for feedback at the recipe development stage. We also worked closely with our suppliers to get the right products,” Pantaleo said. “We were determined to get it right from the outset and a lot of thought and planning went into operational concerns, such as where and how items are cooked. We wanted to pre-empt the challenges and questions from our vegan customers.”

La Porchetta went as far as having developed new procedures manual for its franchisees, putting a lot of work behind the scenes filming recipes and running recipe demonstrations to maintain consistency of quality throughout its restaurants.

“It’s not as simple as just putting vegan dishes on the menu,” she added.

Being versatile in an ever-changing industry
Adaptability and flexibility to changing consumer demands have always been paramount in how businesses in the industry have survived. Perhaps this is more so now, with the rapid pace of technology disrupting how things were done.

From the rise of delivery services and automation, to the changing consumer perception on plastic and premium options, the fast food and fast casual restaurant industry is undergoing a massive transformation.

La Porchetta has no plans of getting left behind.

“In the last six years, the food industry has become the most competitive it’s ever been. La Porchetta always had take-away options and over the last three years we’ve implemented delivery. We’ve had to be agile and do our own deliveries, but also offer aggregated options via apps, because that’s where the consumers are,” Pantaleo said.

“Along the way, we’ve had to upgrade our IT and website with the new online tools our customers are looking for,” she added, noting that they have seen an increase in online sales with the new platform.

To add to this, conventional challenges, such as the rising cost of shopping centre rents, are still posing difficulties to operations. But to address these, Pantaleo said that they’ve been working with franchisees to develop options that “offer a more versatile model in response to increased costs in shop fit-outs and changing consumer needs”.

“La Porchetta is unique in our market segment, because we offer full service and made-fresh-to-order. Our business model isn’t a “cookie cutter” approach and that’s what makes us stand out in this sector,” she said.

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