The power of plant-based menu ideas – Opportunities within hospitality sponsored by Garden Gourmet

Monday, August 9, 2021

We partnered with Arena, the hospitality networking association, to host their Ask Arena webinar. ‘The Power of Plant Based – Opportunities within Hospitality’, sponsored by Garden Gourmet, brought together an expert panel of operators and suppliers to explore how the opportunities plant based brings are being harnessed.

Optimise your plant-based offering banner

There’s no denying it, the demand for plant-based menus and products has exploded in the last decade and operators have certainly been responding and innovating. Who can forget the impact when Greggs’ vegan sausage roll hit the shelves?! In fact, according to Deloitte, the plant-based alternative market is set to grow from €1.5bn in 2018 to €2.4bn by 2025 in Europe, with the UK being the largest market[1].

As the hospitality industry bounces back, plant-based menus are one area we should all be embracing to remain relevant to consumers and to boost the bottom line.

With that in mind, we partnered with Arena, the hospitality networking association to host their recent Ask Arena webinar, which took place on Thursday 15th July. ‘The Power of Plant Based – Opportunities within Hospitality’, sponsored by Garden Gourmet, brought together an expert panel of operators and suppliers to explore how the opportunities plant based brings are being harnessed.

Alongside our Nestlé Professional and Garden Gourmet category specialists Kate Alexander, Head of Commercial Channels, and Rohini Alam, Food Category Lead, David Mulcahy, Food Innovation and Sustainability Director, Sodexo UK & Ireland; Lizzy Barber, Head of Brand, The Hush Collection – Haché, Cabana and Hush, Salima Vellani, Founder and CEO, Absurd Bird / KBox Global, Paul Dickinson, Director of Food, Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC participated at the event and shared their knowledge, experience and practical advice. And thanks also to Anita Murray, CEO, William Murray PR & Marketing for chairing the important discussion.

Setting the scene

The event got underway with an industry trends presentation for the plant-based arena, by Rohini Alam, the Food Category Lead for Nestlé Professional.

Plant-based today:

  • Plant-based food is now for everyone: It’s no longer just for vegetarians or vegans
  • The pandemic made the category even more relevant: People are more aware of the link between food, nutrition and overall health[2] and discovered the positives of plant-based food in lockdown. 1 in 5 Brits cut down their meat consumption during the pandemic[3].
  • Plant-based food is predicted to continue to rise steadily post the pandemic.
  • People are choosing plant based for three core reasons: The impact on the environment, animal welfare and religious beliefs

The benefits of a plant-based menu offer:

  • Improve the perception of your restaurant: It will be seen to be healthier, trendier, more progressive and concerned about the environment.
  • Adding plant-based dishes to the menu can create excitement, drive footfall and attract new customers.

A plant-based phenomenon

Once the scene had been set, the conversation opened up as our panellists explored the trends operators are seeing, how they are adapting menus to meet rising consumer demand, the importance of communicating the offering correctly and what the future may hold.

The experiences, audiences and approaches of our panellists’ businesses may have differed, but common themes and messages came across loud and clear:

Plant based is no longer a trend, it’s a cultural shift: Consumers are hungry for plant-based menus and dishes. From an operator perspective, there’s a real appetite to put plant based on menus across all commercial channels – not just to meet consumer demand but to support sustainability initiatives.

Plant based is fun and delicious: It’s just really good food that happens to not have meat in it. Focus on the flavour, taste and food origin as that’s what people care about. Once they’ve tried it and are wowed by it, they’ll try it again.

Innovation matters:  Consumers want to eat something new, so it’s important to keep up momentum. Operators also want versatility and flexibility in usage. There are some amazing products out there and innovation is getting better and better.

Get the fundamentals right: It’s all about choice and good ingredients cooked well – you can’t compromise on taste and texture. As soon as you get complacent you lose out.

Suppliers play a key role: Operational constraints can make it difficult for some operators to offer a plant-based experience and they are looking to suppliers to find solutions. Suppliers are also important to help support sustainability commitments.

Get your chefs involved: They are creative, have great plant-based menu ideas and are ultimately your salespeople. There’s nothing worse than a chef who says they could have done it better… so engage them and get them to work their passion and magic with good, simple ingredients to innovate and create.

It’s important to know the why:  Insight is key for operators and consumers. We must look at the data and understand trends, emerging trends and so on. And customers want more information about what they’re eating.

Bring excitement to the table: Work with your chefs and suppliers and have fun!

Be open minded: Introducing a plant-based menu offer may alienate a few hardcore meat eaters but it will attract a new wider audience. One person in a group can be a detractor for choosing a restaurant – for example, a vegan can be the handbrake. Having and communicating an offer that has something for everyone is the way forward.

Small changes make it easier for people to try new things: You can’t force people to immediately change their eating habits, but you can inspire them with new experiences.

Don’t ignore the vegan community:  While flexitarians make up the biggest share and are the opportunity drivers, the vegan community has a really loud voice. A vegan-friendly offer is as important as a plant-based offer.

In conclusion, it very clear that plant based is here to stay. In fact, the core expectation is to have good, relevant plant-based dishes menu. It’s a journey we’re all still on and as plant-based reaches across more categories and deeper into categories, it was described as a tsunami waiting to hit! More than one panellist agreed that it’s where the smart money is going.

Whilst opinion was divided as to whether or not the health and sustainability credentials were driving the plant-based boom, it’s a positive consequence that cannot be overlooked. The webinar took place on the morning when Part 2 of the National  Food Strategy was revealed and although this may have been a coincidence, it was a relevant one, as through plant-based we have the opportunity to evolve in the areas of health, wellbeing and the environment.


Plant Based Toolkit

To coincide with the event, we have developed a plant-based toolkit. This toolkit from Garden Gourmet provides key learnings to help you understand what consumers expect on menus and make the most of your plant-based offering, with the below insights:

•            What trends are being seen in the rise of plant-based menus

•            How are operators adapting their menus to incorporate consumer demand for plant-based alternatives

•            How are you marketing your offering to flexitarian / vegetarian and vegan consumers

•            What are your predictions for the future of plant-based

•            How do you choose products for your menus.





Ariel view of Portuguese-style Vegan Burrito Bowl Recipe with Fillet Pieces

[1] Allied Market Research – Meat Substitute Market – July 2018, taken from Deloitte report, Plant-based alternatives, Driving industry M&A.

[2] A source of plant-based protein and fibre. Protein contributes to the maintenance of muscle mass as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

[3] Attest consumer survey for The Vegan Society – Change in consumer behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic – April 2020