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Time to take your vegan offering seriously…

The vegan freight train has been rumbling along for a while now and has certainly gathered some momentum. Whether it’s Pret A Manger stuffing another plant-based grab and go sarnie into their offering, or Sainsbury’s and Waitrose further expanding their lines of meat and dairy free ready meals, the vegan label is a valuable one.

However, the diet choice has come under scrutiny at times, particularly in the retail environment where many ‘plant-based’ options are overly processed and lack the nutritional value many consumers expect. This leaves the food service industry in a strong position being able to lean on working with fresh produce daily.

We’re seeing a big shift in attention when it comes to vegan and vegetarian menu offerings of late, with a stronger focus on using fresh ingredients. In recent years, the bowl has graduated from being used solely for breakfast and clumsy scoops of ice cream and is now the de rigueur vessel for most meals. In 2020 we can expect to see diverse and hefty salad bowls come to the fore. Drawing inspiration from the Buddha bowl where a colourful selection of shredded, sliced and grated vegetables appear with sprouts, pulses and intense dressings, this style of salad is likely to play big in the year ahead, bolstered with an array of alternative hummus’, pestos and plant-based meat alternatives.

While we can bring strong sources of protein to the plate by way of ingredients like broccoli, more familiar sources include peanut or almond based satay sauces, and plant based meat alternatives like tempeh and seitan. The latter of which has become a virtual rockstar of the vegan fast casual market. Most popularly, seitan is being used as a chicken alternative. Pieces are dredged in flour and breadcrumbs before being deep fried to represent something remarkably similar to a chicken wing – or so some hipster street food vendors claim.

Going deeper into plant based meat alternatives, products like the Impossible Burger demand every chefs attention – carnivorous or otherwise. A plant based burger that can be cooked medium rare and actually ‘bleeds’ when done so is truly a thing to behold and has converted meat heavy chefs like David Chang of Momofuku. For 2020, the parent company Impossible Foods will go on to launch a minced pork as well as a sausage product that will go directly into Burger King.

Despite these huge strides in alternative animal proteins, the health critics are still concerned over the nutritional value associated with a product that is widely seen as a healthy option. However, with no animals being harmed, strong sustainability and environmental upticks compared to the conventional rearing of livestock, and in many cases an extended shelf-life, there is plenty to get excited about.

The vegan landscape is constantly evolving, throwing up a colourful array of dishes from every corner of the world. What was once seen as a nuisance to the kitchen, is now one of the most interesting and profitable areas of the menu.