With Veganuary now a firm fixture and plant-based gone mainstream, restaurants look to make plant-based dishes with twice the appeal. Adapting menus to attract curious meat-eaters or flexi diners while at the same time satisfying growing numbers of plant-based consumers.
Now a worldwide event; Veganuary attracts and galvanises thousands of followers every year. Last year, there was over half a million participants, 98% of whom said they’d recommend it to a friend. And this year the participants have already surpassed the 600,000 and counting. Add to this the soaring number of flexitarians, reducetarians, and vegetarians, now is the best time for food operators adapting menus to provide more plant-based options.
Talking about the decision to boost their plant-based range, Mervyn Desir, senior quality and innovation chef at Whitbread, says: “Meat-free, vegan or plant-based was at a time considered niche. It’s no longer niche: it’s a staple part of everybody’s menu and it’s one of the things that we want to be if not leading, on par with our competitors […] As demand is growing, we need to ensure that we’re doing the right thing by our guests, creating a good, compelling offer with good choice and variety on our menus.”
For smaller restaurants, adding meat-free dishes to their menus might be a concern, as some might already be keen to reduce costs and menu size, or unsure about adding extra dishes to the menu which may not cater for the majority of diners.
Rohini Alam, category manager for Nestlé Professional ®, says: “Research shows that people rarely make rational, carefully thought-out decisions around what to eat: decisions happen quickly, are influenced by numerous different factors, and are usually driven by habit and familiarity. Introducing plant-rich alternatives to popular meat-based dishes is an excellent way for restaurants to reduce this friction when diners are choosing what to eat. It means restaurants can satisfy vegans and flexitarians, while broadening a dish’s appeal to meat lovers. What’s more, for operators keen to reduce carbon footprint, it’s one of the behaviour change interventions with the highest feasibility and impact, according to the World Resource Institute.”
Adopting this approach, Whitbread rolled out plant-based crowd pleasers on the autumn menus in 1,200 of its pub, restaurant and hotel sites across the UK. Championing two Garden Gourmet ® hero products, Whitbread introduced the Sensational Burger as its vegan burger offer and the Cumberland Sausage across its breakfast range as well as in its vegan sausage and mash.
Customer response has been superb. Desir says: “The feedback has been really positive: we haven’t had anything negative said. Although a guest sent back their sausage because they couldn’t believe it was a meat-free sausage: they thought we’d made a mistake in the kitchen. That’s a massive tick for Garden Gourmet!”
To give food operators more options, adapting traditional meat dishes – for children and adults alike, the Nestle Professional plant-based brand Garden Gourmet has launched two more plant-based favourites this Veganuary: Vegan Breaded Fillet and Vegan Nuggets.
Alam says: “Dressed up as the flyaway favourite, Katsu Curry, or kept traditional as nuggets, chips and veggies on kids’ menus, with these new products we’re keen to help food operators provide greater variety and inspiring dishes that appeal to a wide variety of dinners, in Veganuary and beyond.”
Plant-based proteins are not created equal, and Desir says: “When vegan, plant-based products came out a few years ago, there was a little bit of bad press, regarding the perception of it being healthy.” With many flexitarians choosing plant-based for health reasons, ingredients should provide a strong mix of nutrients. Desir explains, “As a business, we need to know that it’s nutritionally balanced and a source of protein. Protein is key, so obviously if you’re not eating fish or meat, you need to have a substitute that provides a good amount of protein.”
Explaining why Garden Gourmet is Whitbread’s plant-based protein of choice, highlighted on menus across its portfolio, Desir says, “We’ve done lots and lots of reviewing. […} We’ve eaten a lot of food, tested a lot of food, cooked a lot of food, to see what works better in our kitchen platforms.” With the grill heavily used for meat products, Whitbread chefs cook vegan products in the oven to prevent cross contamination. This hasn’t affected product quality, however, notes Desir: “We’ve had no issues whatsoever, they cook up a treat.”
With a wide range of plant-based meat alternatives in its armoury,
Garden Gourmet provides inspiration and recipes for operators at Make Veganuary Sensational. And for restaurants
looking for a menu development partner to help them reduce carbon footprint,
Garden Gourmet is proudly on track to meet its carbon neutral goals by the end
 Hollands et al. 2016
 Playbook for guiding diners toward plant-rich dishes in food service, Sophie Attwood, Paula Voorheis, Cecelia Mercer, Karen Davies, and Daniel Vennard, WRI.ORG
 The Garden Gourmet range is high in protein and a source of fibre. Protein contributes to the maintenance of muscle mass when consumed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.