Kate Vlietstra
Kate is a Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. She specialises in analysing the dairy sector, with previous experience in FMCG sales and marketing roles.

With the increasing profile of Veganuary in the UK and around the world, January is becoming a key time for food manufacturers and foodservice operators to launch vegan foods. Restaurants and foodservice operators have an important role to play, as trying their meat-free alternatives food could encourage consumers to try these types of food at home. 

Here, four Mintel Food and Drinks analysts from London and Chicago share their experiences with the most innovative plant-based offerings they’ve tried this Veganuary.

Kate Vlietstra, Mintel Food & Drink Global Analyst, UK

I’ve been vegetarian for twenty years, and my affinity for dairy means that cheese-based alternatives tend to be my go-to. Taking on the challenge of Veganuary encourages me to think beyond cheese as an easy meal component. It also has the added bonus of reducing my chocolate consumption! 

I also love the excuse to try a plethora of new foods, so I was excited to see what the long-running vegetarian and vegan restaurant Food For Friends in Brighton, on England’s south coast, has to offer on this front. 

I tried the King Oyster Mushroom ‘scallops’ – an innovative use of vegetables that also featured on the 100% plant-based menu at this year’s Golden Globes. Well, if it’s good enough for Hollywood’s finest…! I haven’t tried anything with this kind of texture before, but combined with a creamy cauliflower purée it makes for a tasty and indulgent starter. They even taste like real scallops, according to my seafood-eating dinner companions. I love the notion of giving vegetables a starring role; they can give consumers the opportunity to try vegan foods that are unprocessed and healthy, yet still gives that hearty taste which we all seek. 

Kate’s King Oyster Mushroom ‘scallops’

Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, Global Food & Drink Analyst, US

I would consider myself a flexitarian. I’m trying to eat more vegetables for my health, and I’m also trying to design more non-meat meals in the name of environmentalism. So, this Veganuary has been a good motivator to make sure I’m actually meeting those goals. 

I think I found a nice compromise with this sandwich: 

Melanie’s ‘Italian beef’ sandwich

It replaces the meat you’d typically find in a Chicago-style Italian beef with shaved beets. They’re topped with sweet or hot peppers, optional cheese, and a vegan umami jus and served in a toasty roll. I love that a restaurant known for its meat—the name is Decent Beef—has not only offered a  plant-based option, but actually created something really inspired and flavorful. Consumers are increasingly looking for these kinds of options and will reward brands that deliver tasty vegan and vegetarian offerings that do not feel like a compromise. Speaking of compromise: I definitely got the duck fat chips with my sandwich. Flexitarianism in action!

David Luttenberger, Global Packaging Director, US

I grew up working on a farm. I enjoy meat. Bacon, steak, pork chops, and chicken are all on my menu. My wife is a vegetarian and my older daughter is vegan, so I’ve sampled (even enjoyed!) no small amount of meat-alternatives.

Please don’t tell my he-man-cave-men-meat-eater buddies, but yes, Burger King’s Impossible Burger would fool even the most ardent of those card-carrying animal protein lovers. Hot, tasty, satisfying. I chose mine sans mayo because, well, mayo contains eggs and animal fat and a real vegetarian wouldn’t be caught dead ingesting those ingredients! Plus, it lowers the total calorie count. A Whopper with cheese is 660 calories. An Impossible Burger with cheese is 630 calories. I also asked the young lady taking my order how and where my ‘burger’ would be prepared. 

“On the grill, with the other burgers,” she replied. “But we can microwave it for you if you ask. But then it gets ‘rubbery’. But you have to ask us to microwave it.” 

Would I order another Impossible Burger? No, but only because I don’t usually frequent fast-food restaurants. Would I recommend it? Sure. Is it possibly going to save the world from devastating greenhouse gas emissions? Maybe, but then again I used a plastic straw in my fountain drink, so for me it was a net sum gain meal. Here’s a picture of me enjoying my Impossible Burger with a couple of ‘friends’.

David’s ‘Impossible Burger’

Trish Caddy, Senior Foodservice Analyst, UK

I eat a lot of fresh vegetables and I’m still a bit unsure about the healthfulness of ‘fake meats’, so McDonald’s UK’s first certified vegan meal ‘Veggie Dippers’ is magnificent! A dish of four breaded cutlet-shaped croquettes surrounding a dense network of red pepper, rice, sundried tomato pesto and split peas. While the overwhelming popularity of fake meat providers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have a lot to do with getting meat eaters to support cruelty-free eating, I believe that there’s still room for more tantalising vegetable junk food for vegetable lovers like me. And yes, I want more!

Trish’s ‘Veggie Dippers’

Beyond January

The appeal of plant-based food is broad, enticing meat-eaters and non meat-eaters alike to try new products. Our experiences of trying plant-based foods have certainly been positive, but our research suggests that there’s demand for more new product development. Over half of US consumers, for example, would like to see restaurants offering more plant-based protein options, while two-thirds of Brits tell us they’ve eaten meat-free foods in the last six months. This suggests that there’s plenty of opportunities for restaurants to continue to add to these innovative plant-based ranges throughout the year, and not just in January. 

Melanie Zanoza Bartelme is a Global Food Analyst at Mintel. She provides insights on global innovation and consumer trends across a number of food categories.

Trish Caddy is a Senior Foodservice Analyst, writing reports about the UK’s eating out market. She previously worked as a restaurant cook in London.

David Luttenberger is Mintel’s Global Packaging Director and he is responsible for custom packaging projects. He has nearly 25 years of diverse packaging experience across multiple end-use categories and all packaging formats.