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Maximise January and Think Vegan

Having a strong vegan offering isn’t just for Veganuary – it should be all year-round.  It can seem expensive and complicated to source ingredients and train staff, however the increasingly large market sector is now being served with a comprehensive range of products and ingredients.

Veganuary started as a charity in 2014 and has since grown to inspire more than half a million people in 178 countries to go vegan for January.  The charity works with businesses to increase vegan offerings in shops and restaurants, making veganism more accessible and visible to consumers.  You can find out more about how Veganuary can benefit your business at www.veganuary.com.

In recent years being vegan has gone from a niche lifestyle choice to something that has grabbed national headlines. With an increased awareness of animal slaughter processes, and media coverage on the health benefits of a diet that’s free of any animal products, the choice to go vegan has started to appeal to more and more people.

The Vegan Society in the UK estimates that the number of vegans in Britain has quadrupled between 2016 and 2016, rising to 600,000 people, a number that is no doubt much higher today.  This doesn’t take into account flexitarians.

For the professional chef, a vegan menu has traditionally been seen as both challenging and financially questionable.  However the negatives associated with creating a vegan offering can so quickly be turned into a positive.

Yes, a vegan menu can be demanding.  Vegan diners are more discerning and want to make sure that what they’re about to east is up to scratch.  For your kitchen, that means ensuring the facility is kept clean and that correct production processes are adhered to.  That may require extra training; it will certainly require a watchful eye initially to let things settle in.

Kitchens need to be careful.  Remember that things like mayonnaise, honey, and Worcestershire sauce (which is made with anchovies) need to be kept well away from the prep area.

A key challenge when creating a vegan menu is looking at every single ingredient to ensure there are no hidden animal-derived components.  Bases for stocks, gravies and sauces, in particular, should be looked at. It’s worth referencing a verified vegan products list such as that available from www.unileverfoodsolutions.ie when designing dishes – you might even come across a product that has the potential to elevate your menu in an unexpected way.

The flipside is that by going to this extra effort, you will be rewarded by word of mouth.  A satisfied diner is extremely likely to tell their friends and families that your establishment is a trusted, go-to destination.

There is an inaccurate perception that vegan dishes can be costly.  The fact is they’re mostly made up of vegetables yet they can be sold for 90% of the sale price of your regular dishes – the margins therefore can be much higher!  Seasonal veg can make for interesting choices throughout the year and the addition of flagship protein replacements like tofu, jackfruit, and seitan are similarly cost effective.

Many restaurants known for their vegan offering succeed because of vegan versions of popular dishes.  The Coach and Horses in Soho, London, for example, created a stir with its signature fish & chips alternative of tofish & chips – a block of tofu marinated in lemon juice with salt and pepper, then wrapped in nori seaweed to give it that taste of the sea. It’s battered like a traditional fish, then served with chips and peas and a tartare made with soy milk.

On the drinks side, beers tend to be vegan; however macro brews especially can have finings added that are anima-derived such as gelatin.  It’s best to ask your rep for advice. The same applies to wine. Fortunately, nearly all spirits – whiskey, vodka, rum, gin – are vegan, but again it’s best to ask to be on the safe side.  The upside is that you will then be able to offer a vegan drinks menu – yet another reason why vegan diners will want to make a reservation!

January affords a major opportunity to take advantage of this movement.  In a typically quiet month, it’s an easier time than most to develop new dishes, put in place best practice, and test public perception.  A lot of potential diners will be of the mindset that while they’re not vegan, they want to reduce the amount of meat they eat. Offering them a suitable alternative can bring back a lot of repeat business as the year goes on.

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