Catering To A New Diner:
Making Plant-based Profitable (3/8)

· plantbased,vegan,QSR,nudge,trends

Panelists: Bhavani Baumann (Sanga Vegan), Chris Molloy (The Plant-Pantry),
Ian Curley (
Director of Kitchen Ops, Ovolo Hotels),
Sarah Borenstein (
Iku Wholefood)

It was great to see grass-root businesses being asked to share their views in the second session. For the first session, click here.

Bhavani, a born vegetarian, co-founded Australia’s first vegan pub at the Green Lion. She has recently started Sanga, Aussie vegan subs. She stated the most resounding opening statement. That is, people want to eat the same food we have always eaten – without animal killing. We miss our comfort foods. And we like the taste, texture, and look of the food we eat. These are the three qualities she believes that is needed for success.

If chefs are only producing a roast pumpkin on a burger, the vegan menu has evolved so much more! We want to eat what everyone is eating.

PWP - Like much of Australia, we know whole food is good for us. We aim to eat better at home and less so when we go out. So the majority of the restaurants are catering for replacements of dishes we used to eat.

The current Senate hearing is even more ridiculous because of these obvious facts. Simply, many looking for vegan options want to eat the same without the costs; to the environment, our health, or the animals suffering.

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Sarah Borenstein shared the story of Iku, who pioneered the vegan wholefood movement in Sydney and probably globally over 30 years ago. At their peak, they had over 10 QSR outlets. Recently they have re-positioned the businesses to deliver ready-to-eat meals and sell directly to consumers.

But it's not easy. Mass adoption is not there yet.

In Iku's case, customers appreciate the flavour, nutrition, and taste. These are their secret ingredients to attracting loyal fans.

Sarah also shared Iku's sustainability drive by having renewable energy in the factory and fully recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging to reduce waste.

Iku is also sponsoring future food grants to help educators teach our children about the importance of food – Sarah understands what the Millennial and Z generations care about.

PWP - For businesses who have been through our Ready for Growth diagnostic, we highlight the importance of Purpose and Planet strategies to monitor. These pillars are beyond marketing. The Iku brand refresh and focus is an example of these strategies being implemented.

Ian Curley shared his history of managing kitchens. He is the Director of Kitchen Operations for Ovolo Hotels. Many years ago, when vegans would ask for vegan options, he initially thought they were heretics.

How things have changed.

The price of meat is going up, and so the difference between meat and plant-based meat is not all that different.

PWP – When we work with businesses, we ask whether they want to lead their category. In the case of Ovolo Hotels, they are the first hospitality group to trial using a vegetarian menu globally for all of their hotels. This is part of their sustainability initiative.

Chris Molloy, a plant-based food distributor, made a few interesting points. Cooking meat is fairly easy. Whereas cooking & plating, vegetables take a longer time. Naturally, the increased labour costs mean the dishes are higher cost. In Chris's experience, customers don't mind paying a difference if the quality is the same.

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PWP - Almost all the top-end restaurants now have vegan options. Some global Michelin star restaurants have even completely switched to vegetarian and vegan options. In Sydney, Gigi's pizzeria in Newtown is an example of a business doing even greater after the shift to fully vegan. In Melbourne, you have Smith & Deli.

That first experience matters for the flexitarian. If it's a bad experience, sales are lost.

PWP - One thing that was not talked about is nudging. Grill'd restaurants, Mad Mex, and Hungry Jacks & Burger King globally are promoting plant-based to all customers. They are 'nudging' the reducetarian to try a plant-based option using displays, menu placement, signage, social media, or a variety of marketing materials. Most people want to do something better, like eating non-animal meat. So a 'nudge' helps them decide. For the next session, click here.