Does the future belong to
One of the things that really tests a chef is the modern-day belief held by diners that kitchens will be able to accommodate the individual dietary choices they have made.
On the surface it may seem a perfectly reasonable expectation, and today’s kitchens are more willing and able to cater for specific dietary preferences than ever before.
What is less well appreciated by the dining public is just
how many alternatives of a meal a chef may have to provide.
Demands around plant-based dishes can be particularly vexed when there are so many (seemingly subtle) variations. But it’s a future that kitchens must face, particularly when it comes to satisfying the needs of diners who are increasingly shunning meat.
Roy Morgan Research reported in the four years to 2016 that Australian adults whose diet was wholly or almost wholly vegetarian grew from less than ten percent to more than eleven percent of the population,
an increase of around 100,000 per year.
Since then, that number has rocketed to more than twelve percent of the population.
“Whether people are embracing a less meat-heavy diet for health, environmental or animal-welfare reasons, the fact remains that this trend looks set to continue,” Norman Morris, Roy Morgan Research’s Industry Communications Director, said at the time.
“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,” he added.
Data across the board bears out the changes in the dietary habits of Australians.
According to the OECD, the worldwide consumption of beef has remained steady across the past 15 years, but in Australia it has dropped from nearly 29 kilograms on average per person in 2004 to less than 19 kilograms per person in 2018, a staggering decline.
Meanwhile, Google Trends shows huge growth in people searching the words veganism, vegetarian and flexitarian, with Australia topping worldwide searches for veganism, coming second globally for the term vegetarian and fourth overall for flexitarian searches.
An option restaurants are exploring to meet this growing demand in a way that
doesn’t compromise meal integrity is the use of plant-based proteins.
These meat alternatives actually contain many of the nutrition components that make up a typical slab of meat, which could go some way to explaining the bullish predictions over their growth potential. According to recent modelling by Deloitte Access Economics plant-based proteins could have an economic value of $3b by 2030.
One such product recently introduced by Simplot Foodservice is Edgell Plant Based, which is marketed as a delicious plant-based meat alternative delivering superior taste and texture.
Suitable for both vegans and vegetarians, Edgell Plant Based can be used as a direct protein replacement in beef or chicken dishes. The appeal to restaurants of a straightforward ingredient swap that satisfies the needs of vegans and vegetarians is obvious.
Popular local Mexican restaurant chain, Mad Mex, has been quick on the uptake and is currently enjoying tremendous success with Edgell Plant Based.
“We’re pleased to be the first QSR restaurant chain in Australia to use Edgell Plant Based chicken style strips as part of our limited edition offering,” says Clovis Young, Founder and CEO of Mad Mex.
“Our menu has always been fully customisable, because
our customers deserve fresh, nutritious food
served their way,” he says, in a nod to the growing influence of individual dietary requests.
Young declares the new filling is not just for vegans and vegetarians, saying it will satisfy the chain’s flexitarian diners as it looks and tastes just like chicken.
“In blind taste tests,” says Young, “many of our Mad Mex staff and customers can’t tell the chicken and vegan fillings apart!”
So are plant-based foods here to stay or merely a passing fad?
According to Food Frontier, a not-for-profit think tank dedicated to a healthy and sustainable food future, we simply have to find ways to diversify our food supply in order to feed the global population in the decades to come.
Food Frontier says Australia is the world’s third fastest-growing market for plant-based foods, while New Zealand’s rate of plant-based food consumption has increased nearly 30% in five years.
The organisation tips the Australian market for packaged plant-based foods to reach $215m by 2020.