The soaring price of ingredients and rise of veganism have led to a ‘notable decline’ in dishes made with animal products at many restaurants.

Restaurants are removing meat dishes from their menus due to the impact of inflation and the rising popularity of Veganuary, researchers say. Only 20% of all dishes served at restaurant chains last summer contained meat, according to the latest figures from Lumina Intelligence, a drop of four percentage points from last spring.

“It’s a notable decline,” said Katherine Prowse, senior insight manager at Lumina, who said the change was driven by a desire to cut costs and satisfy customers. The cost of a restaurant dish rose by 7.9% in just three months, and cutting down on expensive ingredients was part of the solution.

“We’re seeing trends around healthier living and around eating less meat, and restaurants are tapping into that,” she said. “The benefit is they can manage costs at the same time because they’re saving on meat and saving on portion sizes.”

Only 33% of main courses at major restaurant chains include meat, and just 12% of starters, Prowse said, citing data from Lumina’s menu tracker, which surveys more than 150 restaurant chains, and pub and bar operators. About half of pub main courses include meat.

Veganuary, the annual pledge to avoid animal products in January, has grown in significance since it began in 2014 and substantial numbers of people now adopt a flexitarian approach to food, cutting down on meat but not cutting it out.

There has been an argument within the hospitality industty for years about how much restaurants should cater for vegans, Prowse said. “We think it has potentially reached a ceiling in terms of how much menu share would be given to plant-based alternatives,” she added. “But we’re also seeing the expansion of vegan-only restaurants or with menus that are completely vegan. There are fine-dining restaurants in London that are now vegan and several smaller but growing chains based on vegan concepts.”

Last year saw the expansion of Lewis Hamilton’s Neat Burger venture in the US, while Alexis Gauthier, a Michelin-starred chef, stopped selling any animal products at Gauthier Soho in 2021.

Despite the enormous growth in the number of plant-based food products, retailers and supermarkets were still unsure whether customers expect to see vegan sausages in an aisle for plant-based foods, or alongside meat sausages, Prowse said. “Trends tend to start in the food service sector and trickle down to retail, so I think we’ll start seeing people cook more once they get used to the products that are on the market,” she said.

However, meat substitute products have also been hit by the cost of living crisis. Mintel found that sales of products such as no-meat sausages and “tofish” and chips had doubled from £289m in 2017 to reach £586m in 2021. But last year sales fell by 6%, according to Alice Pilkington, a senior food and drink analyst at market-research firm Mintel, even though 49% of people eat meat substitutes regularly. “As household incomes have come under increasing pressure as the year has progressed, the relatively high price of meat substitutes has resulted in consumers cutting back on these products,” Pilkington said.

Although much of the emphasis has been on mimicking burgers and sausages, there is a gap in the market for “vegetable-forward products” such as bean burgers, she added. “Two-thirds of meat substitute buyers say they would be more likely to try products that don’t mimic meat.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com