It seems like no matter which way I turn, what restaurant magazine I'm reading, or food blog I stumble upon, the word vegan is showing up more than ever before. This isn’t a coincidence, my plant-based friends (and carnivores alike). Veganism is on the rise, and there are stats to prove it. In this blog, we explore the current state of veganism and how it is influencing changes in the restaurant industry.
[There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S. in the last three years. According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.]
A 600% increase in veganism in the U.S. in only 3 years is a staggering statistic. It’s pretty obvious that more and more people are moving toward a plant-based lifestyle. But, when I look at this green machine revolution from my own perspective, the presence of veganism doesn’t seem as overwhelming as research shows. I only know one vegan personally. I also have a couple of vegetarian friends, but for the most part, the majority of my circle enjoys a good cut of beef. Still, I live in Brooklyn, which as of recent has been known for its influx of innovative restaurants and as a hub for food trends. Needless to say, there are vegan options galore if you’re looking for them, or even if you’re not. I’ll bet that if I walked within a few blocks of my apartment I could find non-dairy fettuccine alfredo or buffalo tofu sliders in 100 steps or less. More and more I'm seeing popular, traditionally meat-filled Americana classics, like burgers and buffalo wings, transforming into vegan-friendly dishes. There are even meat-free burgers that take on the disguise of real ones, red with "blood" and all.
Just as with anything else, location plays a huge role in current restaurant and food trends. If I was living in the heart of Houston, I’m not as confident that there would be such an abundance of vegan options.
This shift in dietary decision isn’t only within the United States. The adoption of a plant-based way of life started as a fringe movement but is now echoing around the world. Search data from Google Trends shows an impressive worldwide increase in the interest in veganism from 2004 to 2018. Top regions include Israel, Australia, Canada, Austria, and New Zealand. Seven percent or about 3.5 million people now identify as vegan in Great Britain. But, although the U.S. and U.K. round out the top 3 vegan countries by percentage, India takes the first spot with veganism encompassing 27% of the population. This comes to me as no surprise, though, as India has long been known as widely vegetarian. It will be interesting to see how these percentages shift if embracing of the diet continues to trend upwards.
So, why do people turn vegan in the first place? As we can see from the influx in recent years, it’s not just because they were born into the lifestyle. Most people probably made an educated, conscious choice to swear off meat and dairy altogether. A study based in the U.K. reveals:
It doesn't surprise me that health and weight management are the top reasons why people are turning to veganism. Food allergies have been on the rise, with 1 in 13 children affected in the United States and a 50% increase in allergies from 1997-2011. Top foods that cause these reactions? 90% of food allergies come from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. A large number of people also suffer from food-related illnesses like celiac disease (1 in 133 Americans) and lactose intolerance (30-50 million in the U.S.), which have a direct influence on diet choices and food restrictions.
Aside from allergies and conditions, some people go vegan in hopes of living a healthier lifestyle. Red meat has long been linked to diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Chicken is notorious to be a breeding ground for salmonella, and fish poses a threat of mercury. Some people just believe that plants are healthier than animal products.
Research conclusions from recent studies have come out on both sides of the coin.
A Time Magazine article explores whether or not vegan is actually better for health. From that, we extract some key findings from both sides:
[A 2015 Study from the University of North Carolina showed that veganism came out on top as the best diet for weight loss. Another study linked it to “significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer.” However, a professor from Colorado State University notes that there aren’t any clear mortality benefits, and that vegan diets may be less healthy than those including meat due to the lack of essential nutrients like B12.]
In my opinion, it’s too early to say whether or not a vegan diet can significantly improve health. I’ve heard about a number of different diets and each and every one has been both praised and discredited. Personally, I stick to eating meat (and vegetables too, of course) because I find it to be both delicious and a good source of protein and other nutrients that I just can’t see coming from all plant-based products. Of course, I don’t suffer from any dietary restrictions, which plays a part in what I choose to eat. If I had an allergy or condition, I’d have to make the proper adjustments. Still, since veganism has just recently picked up in popularity, I think it’ll be beneficial to revisit the research in the coming years, with a larger sample size, so we can get a better comparison between different diets to better weigh the positive and negatives.
The Effect on the Restaurant Industry
So, just how is veganism affecting the restaurant industry? It’s been identified as a major food industry trend for 2018 by chefs around the world. And some restaurants are already acting on it. Gauthier Soho, a French fine dining establishment in the U.K., has plans to go completely vegan within the next two years. When I came across this article I thought to myself, “wow, I don’t even know what I’d order there.” Now I know how it feels to be a vegan in a steakhouse.
Forbes is even predicting that fast-food giants will incorporate vegan options into their menu strategy, noting that a chain, Plant Power Fast Food, is already making its mark on the industry. I think that we’ll see even more well-known restaurant chains and popular dining establishments adopt a more vegan-friendly menu in the near future.
But, let's take a step back for a minute. Even before the rise of veganism, restaurants throughout history have had to make adjustments to suit all different kinds of needs, from dietary restrictions like allergies to including vegetarian options. Being dynamic is an essential part of being a business, especially a restaurant, owner. Having the capability to adapt to this increase in veganism can help you gain a competitive edge. As more people make the decision to go vegan, there will be a heightened need for more inclusive dining options. Be there to fill that void before every other restaurant does.
Incorporating vegan items into your dining landscape is an example of how you can dynamically adapt to change. Of course, that’s not to say that you should change every menu item from sirloin to tofu, but having a diverse offering can help you expand your customer base. An all-inclusive approach can not only help to win you more business but keep each and every customer satisfied.
If you are planning to go vegan, make sure you let your potential customers know. With 93% of people looking at online menus, it’s pretty much guaranteed that people are specifically looking for vegan options. Your in-house and online menus should accurately and clearly reflect your offerings so you can drive more business and fill more seats.
Clearly, adopting a vegan lifestyle is becoming extremely popular across the globe. As for me, I’m going to stick to my omnivore ways, but will be on the look-out for how restaurants and grocery stores continue to adjust. It’ll be interesting to see if the restaurant industry will evolve significantly in order to become more inclusive of vegan diets. For now, I’ll sit back, order a steak, and watch.
About the Author: Taylor Kelly is SinglePlatform's Content Marketer. She loves reorganizing words and cabinets, drinking iced coffee whether it's summer or winter, and checking out the best happy hour spots New York City has to offer. Her goal at SP is to provide creative & informative content about anything restaurant & small business related.