“How did you get on with Veganuary?”

12 February 2019, 09:34 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

Last year saw the rise and rise of vegan food. 'Plant-based food' became a watchword for a new kind of dish and it quickly became a case of be there or be square.

Where once restaurants had a grudging solitary vegetarian dish on the menu (all too often a puckered-up, stuffed vegetable), now vegan foods get to strut their stuff.

There are posh vegan restaurants and veggie items are already trialling for both McDonald’s and Greggs – at last you can opt for a vegetarian Happy Meal, or perhaps the famous vegan sausage roll appeals? The term ‘vegan’ was only coined in 1944 and it is under pressure from revisionists who prefer ‘plant-based foods’ or even, for the comprehensive approach, ‘flexitarian’.

The days are gone when angry vegans show the rest of us footage from secret filming in slaughter houses as part of a moral crusade. The PR battle ground has got much busier and more sophisticated. This will be painfully obvious to anyone living in the Dorset village of Wool. The PETA group (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) floated a story suggesting that the village name of Wool should be changed to Vegan Wool because merely calling it Wool was disrespectful of sheep.

Before you look at the calendar, this all happened many months away from April Fool’s Day. There’s another pinch of irony in discovering that Wool in Dorset is named after the Anglo-Saxon usage “wul” which means freshwater spring – sheep don’t get a mention.

Meanwhile, retailers both large and small will spend 2019 seeking the vegan seal of approval. Marks & Spencer launches a vegan shoe collection. Hellmann’s brought out a vegan mayo. There’s even an ice cream bar called the Vegan Classic Magnum – the skimmed milk in the original has been replaced by pea protein. This is a bandwagon that will never be short of passengers. But how can a small retailer respond in a way that generates the niche sales they need justify selling these uber-trendy new options?

It also becomes important to avoid the over stocking that leads to a storeroom stuffed with products marooned as the spotlight moves on to the next big thing. The trend towards veganism is a strong one and seems to have built upon a couple of intelligent precursors – meat-free Mondays or the concept of flexitarians. These initiatives are remarkable if only because there’s no mention of money. Vegan food tends to cost more than its regular equivalent, but for once the public seems happy to pay a premium.

The vegan banner flies proudly over ethical shopping, cooking and eating. There are said to be 10 million people in Britain who are vegetarians, which sounds like a lot. Until you turn it round and say there are about fifty million people who are not vegetarians. So, on the one hand we have food items that don’t taste quite as good as the originals and cost more than the basic dishes.

The battle will not be fought in the home kitchens but rather on the fringes of the marketplace, and the vegan lobby have the nous and savvy to make the most of their opportunity. Meanwhile the rest of us wait and see. Anyone for some Waitrose Fishless Fingers?

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