Exploring a new food trend

Masterchef UK finalists from 2016, Billy and Jack

Never has the food and drink industry been so diverse. The last few years have seen rise to choice via craft alternatives to stock, mass produced products. Added to this we have had the war on sugar to help combat the obesity epidemic in many countries, and this has created a whole host of new products vying for attention.

Now 2017-2018 may well have been the years of sugar being the focus for both legislators, retailers and consumers being mindful, it’s certainly not a stretch to claim that 2019 will be the year when vegans shake off their image of being skinny, long-haired hippies.

Statistics from the Vegan Society suggest that demand for meat-free food increased by 987 per cent in 2017 and the vegan trend’s quadrupled in the five years between 2012 and 2017, according to Google search. The search now gets almost three times more interest than vegetarian and gluten free searches according to the Vegan Society. And with this growth, there’s a whole new sector bursting at the seams.

Like for like, but vegan friendly
Spurred on by campaigns like Veganuary, supermarkets, retailers and restaurants have been busy commercialising their efforts to encourage consumption of vegan food and beverages. For those of you not up to speed, Veganuary is the term devised for those determined to observe a plant based diet, free from any animal-based products for the entirety of January. So far the figures suggests this trend, may well explode into a full blown movement. According to statistics recently, over 250,000 in over 100 countries decided to take part in Veganuary in January 2019, up from 170,000 in 2018.

Although Vegan products appear to have exploded into the marketplace, there are some companies that have been trading for many years. Take Bute Island Foods, where its Sheese, the 100 per cent dairy free food company, has been in the Vegan business for 30 years.

“November 2017 saw us extend our Tesco range to 14 products including a spreadable dairy free goats cheese, dairy free cheese with peppercorns and a hard italian style,” explains a spokesperson from Bute Island Foods. “This also helped Tesco to scoop up the 2017 Healthy Cheese Retailer of the Year award.

“Meanwhile we spread our wings to Australia, where supermarket giant Woolworths started stocking a range of our Sheese, and we even featured on Australian television.”

Elsewhere, it’s interesting to note a range of canned meat free alternatives under supermarket own brand labels. One that has recently caught the eye is Tesco’s meat-free bolognaise, which product description states it’s ‘soya mince in a rich tomato sauce, with onion and herbs’. Never has going meat free contained so many options.

Creating exposure
There has been positive work being undertaken in the UK when it comes to utilising the increasing popularity of vegan foods. To mark World Vegan Month, Masterchef UK finalists from 2016, Billy Wright and Jack Layer, recently devised set of new vegan canned food recipes for Canned Food UK. Teaming up with Canned Food UK, the chefs’ three-course tinned vegan menu includes roasted sweetcorn hummus with crudité for starters, and a mushroom, lentil and spinach wellington with caramelised onion gravy and roast potatoes for the main course.

For dessert they developed a vegan pavlova with a boozy cherry sauce that uses a unique ingredient, aquafaba, also known as canned chickpea water. Aquafaba can be used as a thickening agent, as an alternative to eggs.

At the launch of World Vegan Month, Wright said: “Aquafaba makes a perfect meringue. As this is a vegan pavlova, we also used coconut cream. It’s important to use full fat coconut milk for this recipe and chill it overnight. When you come to open the can the mixture separates and you’re able to just use the coconut cream. Whipped and coupled with our boozy sauce made with tinned cherries is a match made in heaven!

“The menu also includes a vegetarian main option; an Indian veggie burger with coconut onion bhajis, and for those not following a plant-based diet, cod, bacon, artichokes and peas in a creamy chowder.”

Canned Food UK has a series of videos entitled ‘Canned Food Dinner Party Masterclass’, which have used the example of canned vegan food to good effect. It shows the versatility of canned food and should certainly be considered for fillers when marketing its products. Using the food sector as an example, Nestlé’s cereal brand Shreddies has recently changed its branding message on its packets to “Forever Vegan and always have been”. It shows the current power this food trend has, and is certainly worth considering in marketing proposals.

The potential
Unsurprisingly, there has been a media frenzy, not least in the UK, where Greggs bakery chain released a Vegan sausage roll. This caused widespread debates about the merits of such a products and many other restaurants and supermarket chains have followed suit with Vegan-friendly offers.

It’s something the metal packaging industry should not ignore as we move forward into 2019 and beyond. Younger people are generally drinking alcohol a lot less, exercising more and are more conscious about what food they eat. That too involves limiting meat intake, particularly when it comes to red meat. This is a trend that will continue in young people and we as metal packaging specialists should not ignore it.

With our sustainability story, there are natural parallels with the environmentally-conscious vegan-eaters and perhaps we should explore those. As I’ve learnt recently, being vegan doesn’t have to be boring; there are many vibrant and interesting dishes available. The metal packaging should be reaching out to prospective vegan-friendly brands about the merits of metal packaging as a concept. With plastic proving to be unpopular, vegan friendly soups, meat alternatives and vegetables have a real positive being canned. There is also the digital printing opportunities, which, much like the craft beer explosion, would work really well in making this new food trend ultra-exciting.

That’s not to say we’re turning our back on the diary and meat industry. Far from it. Society these days is about embracing choice, much like we’ve seen with the craft beer boom during the last 10 years. With the industry’s powerful story that will surely resonate with the environmentally-conscious, there’s no reason why vegan foods can’t see the humble can as its go-to packaging format.

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