The market for vegan and vegetarian food is booming, and caterers need to adapt if they want to capitalise on this growing demand. Mike Hardman, from catering equipment suppliers Alliance Online, explains how catering professionals can keep vegan and vegetarian diners happy.
With over 1.68 million Britons now following a vegan or vegetarian diet, plant-based lifestyles are no longer a niche minority (BBC). And, with more and more people becoming ‘flexitarians’ and looking to reduce the amount of meat in their diets, it’s likely that more and more of your clientele are going to be interested in trying out more vegan and vegetarian foods, especially now 41% of Brits claim they’d be likely to try a plant-based option when dining out (Morning Advertiser). So, whether you offer catering services in schools, hospitals, or at private events, it’s no longer enough to have one token veggie option hidden at the bottom of your menu.
If you want to capitalise on this growing market, then you need to start offering a wider selection of inventive plant-based dishes. Below, I’ll share my tips for improving your vegan and vegetarian offerings.
Be big on flavour
One of the more negative stereotypes of vegan and veggie food is it tends to be a bit bland. But, there’s really no reason the plant-based dishes on your menu can’t be every bit as flavoursome and exciting as meat-based ones — all it takes is plenty of seasoning, spices, and a bit of culinary flair.
Remember, there’s a difference between a plate of vegetables and a well-rounded, visually appealing meal. So, don’t just swap your meat dish for a flavourless meat-substitute and expect great results: take the time to design a rounded dish that brings out the natural flavours of your veg. You can bulk out your dishes by adding grains, beans and pulses, and complex carbohydrates. Sauces and dressings will also add instant flavour and interest to an otherwise simple vegan dish.
If you’re struggling to create an exciting menu, you can try taking some inspiration from plant-dominated cuisines, like Indian and Middle Eastern. It will also help to get someone with experience in this area in to help design your dishes and show your staff the ropes.
Repurpose your existing stock to create new dishes
It’s easier and more cost-effective to try to create vegan or veggie dishes using your existing stock. This way, you won’t need to source a new menu’s worth of ingredients. Furthermore, food prep, storage, and menu planning will be easier and more efficient.
To do this, you’ll need to analyse your existing food options and think about what meat-free dishes could complement them in terms of flavour profiles and the general cooking process. For example, if you’re serving a meat dish with cauliflower cheese as a side, you could repurpose some of the ingredients into tasty cauliflower steaks for your vegan diners. Thinking creatively and designing menu options which use complementary ingredients in this way will make the work much easier, and it can help to reduce waste too.
Focus on freshness and locality
When fruit and vegetables are the centrepieces of your dish, it’s important to focus on quality, as it’s much harder to disguise poor quality produce when it’s the main focus of the meal. Using the best quality produce you can afford will help to elevate your dishes, and you won’t need to work as hard to make the ingredients shine, as they’ll already pack plenty of flavour. Plus, as many vegans choose to follow this lifestyle for environmental reasons, serving organic produce that has been sourced locally will resonate with eco-conscious diners.
Ensure labelling is clear
As a professional caterer, you’ll be well aware of the importance of clear labelling, especially when it comes to allergens. So, be sure to extend this to your vegan and vegetarian offerings, too. Offer clear guidance on what is in every dish — this is especially important if you provide a self-serve station, as diners might not be able to visually identify plant-based options.
If you provide catering in an environment serving children who may struggle to communicate any specialist diets, then it may be worth employing a register of children with dietary requirements so they can request their food by name. This will help to prevent any confusion and ensure everyone receives the appropriate meal.
In today’s market, the importance of catering to those with plant-based diets really can’t be underestimated. So, take these tips on board to redesign your offerings to be more inclusive to all diners.