Business case for vegan options in non-vegan restaurants

There is a growing trend for consumers to opt for healthy and cruelty-free fare. Vegan Australia's Vegan dining campaign assists restaurants to tap into this expanding market. By providing a vegan menu restaurants can show innovation and forward thinking.

High-quality vegan food is a great solution for caterers because it appeals to just about everyone - it's tasty, healthy, ethical and planet-friendly. Having good vegan options on the menu will broaden the customer base and means the restaurant is automatically ready to cater for practically any customer who comes through the door. Vegan food is inclusive and is suitable for:

  • vegetarians, including lacto-vegetarians who do not eat eggs
  • people trying to reduce meat consumption for animal welfare reasons
  • people concerned about the environmental impact of the production of animal products
  • those cutting down on meat for specific health reasons, such as those with special cholesterol needs or people trying to reduce weight
  • lactose intolerant diners
  • many religious dietary requirements (for example, vegan foods are kosher and if the meal does not contain alcohol then vegan food is halal, also is suitable for those who do not eat various types of meat for religious reasons)
  • vegan food is often more suitable for health conscious consumers. This is backed up by the Australian Dietary Guidelines which states that "evidence suggests Australians need to eat more vegetables, legumes/beans, fruits and whole grain cereals."
  • those with certain allergies prefer vegan meals
  • athletes
  • any customer looking for something a bit different

If a restaurant can cater for vegans, they are more likely to win the custom of group bookings where some members of the group are vegan. Say if there is a group of 20 family members, friends or colleagues arranging a meal together and there is one vegan in the group, the whole group will want to go somewhere where everyone, including the vegan, will have something good to eat. Or put another way, if a restaurant does not provide a good vegan option, they lose the custom of 20 people. As stated by the US Nation's Restaurant News: "Vegetarian dishes, aside from being less expensive ... also mitigate the veto vote. Usually, if you have a vegan in your party, that will dictate where the party eats ... They want to make sure everybody's going to be satisfied, so diversity is going to be very important on the menu." According to a 2013 survey 78.52% of vegans eat in non-vegan restaurants.

Vegan Australia is campaigning for more vegan items on menus because more vegan options in restaurants will make it easier for people to become vegan and stay vegan. This will mean less suffering and death for animals. It will also be better for the environment, improve people's health and reduce the pressure on food resources worldwide.

It often takes just a few small changes to make vegan food available and in the process improve business. As well as bringing in new customers most vegan food has the bonus of being cheap with larger profit margins. Although you may start with small changes there is little doubt that the more effort you invest the more likely you are to end up with some fantastic vegan choices.

Vegans represent a loyal customer base and are appreciative of vegan options being provided - word of mouth spreads quickly in the vegan community.

Quantitative evidence of an increase in demand for vegan menu items

Exact statistics about the number of vegans and the number of people who at times eat vegan meals are somewhat hard to come by. This is particularly true for Australia. A few that can be found are:

  • The Australian Dietary Guidelines states that "About 4% of respondents in the National Nutrition Survey 1995 described themselves as vegetarian or vegan. The food frequency questionnaire data recorded only 2% as consuming no animal products, and a further 2% as restricting consumption of animal foods to fish or white meat. Many more people eat vegetarian meals regularly or occasionally."
  • In Australia, consumption of animal products (measured as calories per person per day) has fallen at least 15% since the 1960s (see Reference 1 below).
  • While not measuring numbers of vegans, a Roy Morgan Research study in 2016 found that there were over two million Australians whose diet was all or almost all vegetarian. This represents over 11% of the population and a 15% rise over the previous four years. The study also found that almost 10 million Australians are eating less red meat. Commenting on the study, Roy Morgan's industry communications director Norman Morris said: "If they have not already, supermarkets and eateries would be wise to revisit their vegetarian-friendly options to ensure they are catering adequately for this growing, and potentially lucrative, consumer segment."
  • Research by Mintel found that 14% of Australians said they avoided or intended to avoid red meat in 2016. The research also showed a marked increase in vegan food product launches. Between 2014 and 2016 there was a 92% increase in the number of vegan food products launched in Australia.

Some figures from the USA are included in the Mercy for Animals restaurant campaign. (Note that Mercy for Animals uses the terms vegetarian and vegan interchangeably.) "While the number of vegetarians is growing every year (an estimated 20 million), the number of non-vegetarians who often order vegetarian meals at restaurants is also growing dramatically. Consider these facts:

  • 57% of all restaurant-goers "sometimes," "often," or "always" order a vegetarian item when dining out (Zogby International).
  • The health and eco-conscious population contributed to the growth of a $1.2 billion market for vegan goods (primarily dairy, egg, cheese and meat substitutes), one that jumped 63.5% between 2000 and 2005 (New York Times).
  • 20% of adults favor restaurants with vegetarian options according to a Gallup Organization Poll (National Restaurant Association).
  • 35% of adults aged 45 to 64 regularly consume vegetarian foods and milk alternatives, such as soy or rice milk (Mintel Consumer Intelligence Survey).
  • Non-vegetarians make up 80% of the customers who purchase meat alternatives from Gardenburger, the number one selling brand of meatless burgers (Gardenburger, Inc.).
  • 23% of non-vegetarians consume meat alternatives (Washington Post)

Mercy for Animals states that "Americans are steadily adjusting their eating habits to reduce or eliminate meat and other animal products from their diets. The market for vegetarian food products grew from $646 million in 1998 to $1.6 billion in 2003 and was projected to reach $2.5 billion in 2008." They also state that "Vegans are the fastest growing segment of the vegetarian population, and it is this population that should be the focus of your new menu items." and that "the number of people ordering vegan food at restaurants is growing exponentially."

In their article How many adults are vegan in the US, the Vegetarian Resource Group state that 30% of Americans are "very interested in vegetarian foods", even though they are not vegetarian. Some statistics on the diets of young people in America can be found in their survey How Many Youth Are Vegetarian?

A number of national restaurant chains in the USA are currently supplying vegan options.

Influenced by an increasing awareness of what constitutes healthy eating habits, an abundance of young people are also eliminating animal products from their diets. Young people have tremendous buying power and will carry these consumer habits into adulthood. This information from the US Mercy for Animals restaurant campaign:

  • 1 out of every 4 college students wants vegan meals offered on campus (ARAMARK survey).
  • Approximately one million school-aged children do not eat red meat, poultry, or fish (Vegetarian Resource Group Survey).

More information can be found in the Mercy for Animals Vegetarian Resource Guide for Restaurants and the Vegan Society (UK) Vegan Catering for All pamphlet.

There are at least 400,000 Australians who are vegan or vegetarian for religious reasons. This includes approximately 250,000 Buddhists (about half of the 500,000 Buddhists), 150,000 Hindus (about half of 300,000 Hindus) and 1,200 Jains (almost all are vegan or vegetarian).

Qualitative evidence of an increase in demand for vegan menu items

There are a number of other indications that the demand for vegan menu items is increasing. Some of these are listed below.

  • There is definitely a lot of activity and a marked increase in reporting of veganism in the media. Animals Australia's exposure of the cruelty in the live animal export industry and other animal industries has heightened people's awareness of animal welfare issues. Their investigation into live animal export generated 40,000 media stories. Animals Australia have stated that no other investigation has inspired more people to become vegetarian. More recently they have been investigating the bobby calf issue and have been exposing this "secret" of the dairy industry. Their focus is also increasingly moving towards promoting veganism. For example in their Final Moments investigation, they ask readers to choose one of two pledges. One suggested pledge is "I pledge to help animals by taking all animals off my plate." See Animals Australia Final Moments campaign.
  • There are already many exclusively vegan restaurants in major cities around Australia that are trading successfully. Some have been trading for decades and the numbers increase yearly. Business is expanding, with Trippy Taco, an all veg Mexican place in Melbourne, moving to larger premises.
  • The number of specialist vegan businesses (food, clothing, etc) is growing as demand increases.
  • There is a lot of interest in vegan products from the general public as evidenced by the attendance rates at vegan/cruelty-free/green living expos and festivals around Australia. Attendance numbers increase every year.
  • Non-vegans make up a large percentage of the patronage of existing vegan restaurants, showing that non-vegans also find vegan food attractive.
  • Several non-vegan restaurants already have a vegan section on the menu. Some of these are fine dining establishments. Otto Ristorante in Sydney has a vegan degustation menu and Cafe Sydney has an impressive vegan menu.
  • Some restaurants have several vegan options listed in their "allergy" section. For example Montezuma's Mexican restaurants' food allergy chart (PDF).
  • Even though not mentioned in their menu, many restaurants will already cater for vegans. Given a few days' notice they will make something for vegans coming as part of a group. These "specials" could become the basis for a more well-advertised vegan menu.
  • An example of the popularity of restaurants providing more vegan items on their menu is this News article "Aussie restaurants embrace meat-free". One chef says "there's always negative publicity for restaurants who don't look after their meat-free guests".

Things individuals can do to encourage restaurants to offer vegan meals

  • Get a group together and ring up a restaurant and ask to book 20 people in for a vegan meal.
  • Order catering booklets from Vegan Society (UK) and Mercy for Animals (see Links section) and take them into local restaurants and ask them to improve their vegan options. Restaurants tend to take a lot more notice of actual customers going in to see them than a vegan organisation contacting them. They probably see us as a pressure group, but people in their local area are potential paying customers so it's in their interest to listen.

Things Vegan Australia plans to do

  • Commission a poll to determine number of vegans in Australia and number of people who consume vegan meals. This should come from a respected polling company and be done in cooperation with other vegan and animals rights groups in Australia.
  • For particular restaurants, send examples of vegan versions of the meals the restaurant already serves and list places to buy the vegan ingredients.
  • Offer to help restaurants veganise some of their meals.
  • Work with restaurant chains to encourage them to add vegan options to their menus and promote those that make changes.
  • List substitutes for sauces such as fish sauce.
  • Establish a "vegan-friendly promise" scheme where restaurants which always have at least one good vegan option on the menu send us a sample menu and in return get a 'Vegans catered for here' windows sticker.
  • Maintain a list of restaurants participating in the "vegan-friendly promise" scheme and publish it regularly as a pamphlet and a website. This has the dual benefit of providing a resource to the community (especially for new vegans and 'vegan-curious') to help them find vegan-friendly food and providing an incentive to the restaurants to get on board by providing targeted advertising. This is similar to the campaign run by Compassion Over Killing. See Guide to Restaurant Outreach and Restaurant Outreach Campaign.
  • Host dinners at restaurants that can cater for vegans
  • Create an Australian version of the Restaurant Manager Cards distributed free by Compassion Over Killing. Also see this article.

Links

Thanks to the following for help in preparing this campaign: Bruce Poon (Vegetarian Victoria), Roy Taylor (Animal Activists Forum), Renata Peters (Alice Springs Vegan Society), John Brasted (Adelaide Vegans), Geoff Russell (Animal Liberation South Australia), John Davis (International Vegetarian Union), Charley Roberts (Vegan Society (UK)), Leigh-Chantelle Koch (Green Earth Group), Maureen Collier (Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Queensland), Greg McFarlane (Vegan Australia), Maria Velardo (Vegan Society NSW) and Tim Moore (Vegan Society NSW).

References

1) United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization database here and here. To search the database enter the values as shown below. There is some yearly variation and so selecting other years in the 1960s and 2000s can show up to a 25% reduction in the consumption of animal products.

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