The evolution and future of vegan and vegetarianism

Veganism and vegetarianism have both been taking the UK food and restaurant markets by storm. Partly attributed to an increased awareness and concern for animal welfare, this plant-based movement is also tied to health and fitness trends.

Many of us are fully aware of the impact, on both our bodies, minds and the planet, a meat-based diet can have. Although I am not a reliable scientific source, multiple articles have reported the varied health benefits of being a vegan, which include weight loss, improved kidney function, lower blood sugar levels as well as better mental wellbeing. Therefore it is no wonder that many of us are making the switch to vegetarianism or veganism in order to improve our health and wellbeing as well as ‘do the right thing’.

Although now popular and a huge talking point, vegan and vegetarian restaurants have been present for a while, for instance Food For Friends in Brighton pipped the trend to the post, opening their vegetarian café style operation, targeted at the student market, back in 1981. Food For Friends still exists today, although having evolved into a more up-market restaurant, now offering a selection of vegan dishes alongside their vegetarian origins. Fourteen years into trading, one of the Food For Friends founders went to on form Terre a Terre, also in Brighton, another vegetarian offering, which now also caters for vegans.

This movement is indicative of a wider shift. Historically some vegetarian restaurants just provided meat alternatives, however more and more are now offering sumptuous and innovative dishes, even drawing in meat-eating restaurant-goers.

Throughout 2017 and ’18 we have seen more and more restaurants and eateries creating innovative offerings. For example, ByChloe, a new US import, is now taking the London market by storm, and we hope to see concepts like this to expand to UK regional cities.

However, a word of caution, simply offering a vegan menu is not a guaranteed recipe for success (pun very much intended). As with all other restaurants, vegan or vegetarian focussed restaurant brands or single operators still need to offer a niche, a unique selling point, and create the right environment. For example, 1847, a national vegetarian brand, opened in Brighton in December 2015. Combining a vegetarian menu with formulaic high street interiors didn’t appeal to the Brighton demographic and the concept consequently failed, closing roughly two years later.

However, a prime example of a restaurant with a successful USP is Purezza, the UK’s first vegan pizza restaurant. Fleurets aided Purezza in sourcing their second site, expanding from their Brighton flagship venue, which was founded in 2015, to a new Camden-based operation in the capital.

Although popular, the vegan and vegetarian movement alone is perhaps not enough to fuel and sustain a restaurant industry from a financial and business perspective. Perhaps part of the success can be attributed to the ‘flexitarians’ – those that are not strict, but preferentially aim to reduce their meat and animal produce intake. Plant Based News recently reported that there was an estimated 22 million flexitarians in the UK, which when combined with the more orthodox vegans and vegetarians, bolster the numbers significantly. This collective demographic is also influencing the food manufacturers, who aim to create and produce more meat substitutes.

It may seem as though this trend has passed, however we believe there is certainly room for growth and will see this market continue to thrive.

We expect that some of the concepts currently exclusive to London will begin to expand to other regional UK cities. Furthermore, I expect that other general casual dining restaurants, as well as specialist Thai, Mexican and Indian restaurants etc. will introduce more and more vegan and vegetarian options to their menus, easing the path for vegans and vegetarians to dine amongst their meat-eating friends. One particular brand which does just this is The Coconut Tree, a Sri Lankan street food restaurant, which inherently embraces the vegan and vegetarian trends. Furthermore, Fleurets is currently assisting The Coconut Tree with their intended expansion to the UK’s regional towns and cities.

Finally, there are currently no Michelin-starred vegan restaurants in the UK, and even vegetarian restaurants with one star are rare. We hope that, along with the casual dining market, the fine-dining sector will also continue to expand.

by Kate Dowd, an associate at leisure property specialists, Fleurets

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