Pubs urged to deliver post-lockdown plant-based push

The number of food pubs offering vegetarian and vegan burgers jumped from 70% ahead of the UK’s first national lockdown to more than 80% by October 2020, according to CGA MealMetrics data collated from the food till sales of more than 7,000 pubs, bars and restaurants.

Consumers’ focus on health during the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to make vegetarian and vegan dishes more prominent on menus than ever when the hospitality industry reopens, CGA said.

“Eating habits evolve fast and the pandemic has brought even more nuances to consumers’ behaviour,” said CGA’s client director Fiona Speakman. “The rapid growth in vegetarian and vegan diets is a big opportunity for pubs, restaurants and the foodservice sector.”

Indeed, with an average meal price of £9.90, plant-based options also provided “good margins”.

Recent research by Mintel showed that the number of Brits saying they ate no or less meat last year fell compared to 2019 (41% versus 51%). But this setback for the flexitarian movement is likely to be very short-lived: in time, the pandemic will serve to make the benefits people associate with eating less meat “even more relevant and important”, the analysts said.

Around 125,000 UK citizens signed up to this year’s Veganuary campaign. Innovation and new product releases in the foodservice sector were understandably stifled this year, especially among contract caterers.

Still, hundreds of new plant-based products and menu items were launched in January, according to the Veganuary campaign.

Leon’s new ‘vegan sweet Carolina BBQ burger’ became its bestselling burger. Marks and Spencer meanwhile sold one of its new ‘No salt beef pretzel rolls’ every 30 seconds and its ‘Plant Kitchen vegan chocolate cookie’ was its most popular single cookie. 

Pret’s new ‘Meatless meatball hot wrap’ was the first new product to become a top five best seller in launch week in the chain’s history. “We’ve never seen a new product come in and shift our best sellers list, and to see it during a lockdown and in less than three weeks says a lot,” explained Pret UK trading director Guy Meakin.

CGA research shows that 25% of Brits are seeking to reduce their meat consumption. Around 6% already follow meat-free diets, according to CGA BrandTrack.

Increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of meat production has added to interest in vegetarian and vegan diets. Renewed focus on healthy eating following Covid-19 is also playing a part.

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