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‘The Power of Plant Based – Opportunities within Hospitality’

On the morning of Thursday 15 July from 8.30am to 9.45am our lastest webinar in the Ask Arena series of virtual events was entitled ‘The Power of Plant Based – Opportunities within Hospitality’.  Our panel of experts discussed how operators are adapting their menus to the rise in consumer demand for plant-based meals whilst at the same time increasing their bottom line. Scroll down to read the webinar review...


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Event Review

By Lorraine Wood, Director, Arena

There’s no denying it, the demand for plant-based products and menus 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.

As the hospitality industry bounces back, this is one area we should all be embracing to remain relevant to consumers and to boost the bottom line.

With that in mind, we dedicated our latest Ask Arena webinar to this very topic. ‘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.

A huge thank you to 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 and Kate Alexander, Head of Commercial Channels, Nestlé Professional for giving their time to share their knowledge, experience and practical advice. And thanks also go to Anita Murray, CEO, William Murray PR & Marketing for chairing the important discussion.

If you were unable to join us for the webinar a recording of the conversation can be viewed here.

I, for one, found the whole topic fascinating so I thought I’d share my key take outs with you.

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 have becoming increasingly aware of the link between food, nutrition and overall health over the last 18-months. and how plant-based protein contributes to a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.[1] With the wider knowledge of how plant-based protein is beneficial, 1 in 5 Brits cut down their meat consumption during the pandemic.[2]
  • 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 including plant-based options on the menu:

  • Improve the perception of your restaurant: It will be seen to be healthier, trendier, more progressive and concerned about the environment.
  • People are prepared to pay more for it.
  • 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 options. 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 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 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 a selection of good, relevant plant-based dishes on the 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 with brands such as Garden Gourmet, where products are a plant-based source of protein and fibre, we have the opportunity to evolve in the areas of health and wellbeing and the environment. And, in my book, that’s a pretty good place to be.




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