The Badger - The flex factor

The Badger - The flex factor

I see a lot of coverage in the media at the moment about vegan food and how this segment is growing enormously. More people are looking to reduce or exclude meat and animal products from their diets, and vegan is a good option for many, but how big is this market really? When the share of the market is in low single digit percentage points, a 100% increase in the market is still not a big market but there is no mistaking that it is certainly an area of growing consumer interest and trial.

I always wonder how serious these new vegans are. Have they given their leather shoes away and declined any products that are connected to animals, or is it really just vegan food consumption that has grabbed their culinary imagination?

The good thing about the growth in veganism and meat reduction/replacement trends is that it is helping people increase their consumption of vegetables and that is good for several reasons. One, it is healthier. Two, it is often less expensive, so a great idea for people on tighter budgets. Three, it is arguably better for the environment.

I read with interest that Sodexo has signed up to the Peas Please initiative and, among other things, committed to increasing the volume of veg it purchases by 10% by 2020. I think that’s a really good idea, and if we all reengineered our menus to maintain the same portion size but increase veg as a percentage of the meal format by 10%, that would do a lot of good for the nation’s health.

School caterers have been evolving menus to incorporate more veg into everything from main courses to cakes and desserts (see beetroot chocolate brownies!) for years and have been very creative in their approach. Arguably, many probably hit their own 10% increase in veg consumption a while ago.

Restaurants like The Grain Store at Kings Cross, now sadly closed, but in its time a shining light in flexitarianism, showed us that meat can be the garnish and vegetables can be the hero of the plate. By using a smaller portion of what is usually the main element, the meat budget can be spent on higher quality, ethically reared produce, which helps in our drive for more sustainable food.

The figures out the other week from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development demonstrating that the UK has the largest percentage of obese people in Europe are no joke. The data showed that 63% of UK adults are now overweight and 27% are obese – a whopping great increase of 92% since the 1990s! Child obesity is stable at least, but it’s still 24%. As an industry that has such a big impact on people’s diets, we all know that we have a responsibility to try to influence our customers to make healthier choices. The recent results from the British Hospitality Association’s annual Foodservice Management report indicate that as an industry we are doing our bit to reduce sugar and salt and provide healthier alternatives. Given the ticking timebomb impact that this is having and will continue to have on the National Health Service and its creaking budget, I wonder if the time has come for us all to do a major push on flexitarianism too.

The global population is rapidly rising, as are the number of people in the middle classes in the developing world, and all the experts point towards a significant increase in demand for meat. The downside of that is that meat production for the food chain is one of the most polluting activities we undertake, and it has a far greater negative impact than most types of transport. Who would have thought that?

We may not be able to stop demand in the developing world for more meat, but we can all help with it by reducing our national dependence on meat and encouraging more vegetable consumption and flexitarianism by really improving our offers of vegetarian (or vegan) food. Nut culet anyone?