Rising interest in plant-based foods

Earth Source Foods

If you needed any further proof that the mainstream market is embracing plant-based foods, then look no further than the growing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Australia.

What’s more, some of these eateries don’t even announce themselves as vegetarian and manage to (shock, horror) equally satisfy the meat-eaters among us with their creative and upmarket fare. This is a remarkable shift in attitude compared to only a few years ago when the vegetarian options at any given restaurant were largely limited to mushroom risotto and nut roast.

A recent article in Hospitality Magazine charts this rise in restaurants offering plant-based foods by explicitly stating ‘veganism is no longer a dirty word’.

The article details examples of specific Australian restaurants that have gone down the plant-based foods route in their own unique way – such as the diner, Yellow, in Sydney (relaunched as a vegetarian restaurant earlier this year), Vintaged Bar and Grill at the Hilton in Brisbane (a steakhouse that dared to try a vegan options menu in April to great success) and Smith & Daughters in Melbourne (a Latin-themed vegan restaurant).

Head Chef at Yellow, Adam Wolfers says, “We don’t want to be a restaurant that just caters to vegetarians. We’re cooking with vegetables, yes, but we want people who eat meat to come in and still have a great experience and not be thinking that it’s a chore to come to dinner.”

Cale Drouin, CEO of Revolution Foods, recognised the tide was turning in terms of vegetarianism and veganism almost five years ago and built an entire plant-based food distribution and marketing business on it.

“I started as a vegan café and grocery store owner, which is how I predicted veganism going into the mainstream market,” says Cale. “I thought the best way to help this happen was to find the best products and take them into the mainstream retail and food service market.”

Cale believes the increasing interest in plant-based foods is evidenced in everything around us, from the United Nations and Google right down to our local corner stores. 

“It has been ‘de-hippified’,” explains Cale. “It’s no longer a dodgy little place in some back corner. Plant-based foods are front and centre. The IGAs and the grocery stores are really focusing on plant-based products as a point of difference in their stores, rather than being something they feel obligated to do for a niche market. It’s now a real part of growing their business.”

In recalling the attitudes of customers when establishing his business, Cale says, “Initially quality didn’t matter. The market was such that they were just happy to get anything. But, as the market has got more discerning, quality has had to improve. The stuff we are importing and what’s being made locally is improving very, very quickly to match people’s expectations.”

When Cale is asked what he looks for in the products he chooses to distribute, he does not hesitate to put forward a one-word answer: taste.

“That’s where it all starts and stops for us – taste. Of course, our products have to be vegan or plant-based but excellent taste and texture come first because that’s what people could not get in the past.”

There is also a heavy emphasis at Revolution Foods on meat substitutes. “And that includes tofu as well,” says Cale. “Because the quality of tofu in the past wouldn’t even come close to replacing meat. The quality of [some] tofu has improved so much. It now functions, even in Western diets, as the protein in a meal, rather than the thing people eat occasionally and just manage to get down their throats.”

Mo Wyse from Smith & Daughter really hits the mark in her interview with Hospitality Magazine when she says, “When we opened the restaurant, it wasn’t to cater to the vegans and vegetarians, it was to create a really inclusive environment that everyone can come to.”

Plant-based foods are no longer the alternative; they’re the norm.