January 19, 2021 was a landmark day for French gastronomy. A region full of creativity, starred chefs and ambitious restaurants that dominate the culinary world. It is the training ground for chefs aspiring to a Michelin star.
That day, Michelin judges awarded chef Claire Vallée – the committed vegan behind Bordeaux restaurant ONA (Origine Non-Animale) – a Michelin star, making her the first French vegan chef to win the honour. It was an award that was also a clear sign of the times. Michelin also introduced a new green star rewarding restaurants that are at the forefront of sustainability practices. The times are changing.
Last year, 57 vegetarian and 24 vegan restaurants around the world earned a Michelin star in recognition of the growing acceptance of plant-based eating and its rightful place at every table. Michelin sent a message that plant-based food is not a fad, nor a passing fad; it is a movement and an evolution to which the industry must wake up.
The movement is gaining momentum in a world eager to embrace plant-based diets to fight climate change, improve personal health, prevent allergic reactions, and protect our wildlife and precious planet. A 2021 United Nations report highlighted the issue by pointing out that the food we eat is estimated to account for 34% of all greenhouse gases in the world. Plant-based foods have the lowest climate footprint per serving, so by eating more of them and fewer animal-based foods – including less dairy – we can contribute to a healthier and more sustainable world. on the environmental level.
In the Arab world, there are signs that things are changing and will continue to change. The Arab Youth Survey 2021 found that among the region’s population aged 18-24, some 56% are willing to boycott brands deemed harmful to the environment. The region has the fastest growing segment of the young population in the world and – representing the restaurant customers of today and tomorrow – they are the ones who are at the forefront of food change influenced by social media, documentaries such as Cowspiracy and Marine suctionand superstar environmentalist Sir David Attenborough who said “the planet simply cannot support billions of meat eaters”.
While the grocery industry has realized the opportunities the socially responsible food movement offers, the restaurant and hospitality industry has largely failed to keep pace. That’s why at Upfield, through our new #makeitplant campaign, we’re calling for action, urging restaurants and chefs to include more plant-based options on their menus. Industry professionals who sign up for the campaign have access to our experts, who will help them modify their menus to suit all types of diners, whether they are vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, climatarians or simply curious about plants.
The #makeitplant campaign aims to ensure consumers have tasty, nutritious and eco-friendly food options inside and outside the home, without having to compromise on taste or performance.
We challenge the restaurant and hospitality industry to do more for the planet, but the reality is that offering plant-based menu options is and will be good for business too. Many meat, egg, and dairy alternatives are cheaper or similarly priced, and with meat and dairy prices set to rise sharply, plant-based alternatives may offer better value.
According to a Forbes survey, 17 of 22 restaurants surveyed that have fully migrated to vegan menus, have seen their sales increase – some by as much as 1,000% – and have witnessed an upsurge in social media followings as well as a decline food prices.
Looking ahead, the numbers are compelling: plant-based dairy and meat sales are projected to grow 15% annually through 2025 to US$29 billion, then quintuple by 2030 to more of $162 billion. Meanwhile, the global milk substitute market is expected to grow at 16.7% annually to reach a value of $41 million in 2025.
Then there is the prospect of legislation. The rewards will go to those who are ready for the likely regulated introduction of carbon (CO2e) menu labeling to drive emissions reductions. Many large chains are already adopting CO2e labeling and a recent study by Germany’s Julius-Maximilians University (https://journals.plos.org) is compelling. He sought to understand how restaurants can contribute to climate change mitigation through menu design and, simply put, found that consumers made more climate-friendly food choices when carbon labels were present.
While the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference will visit the Middle East for the next two years – COP27 in Egypt this year; COP28 in the UAE next – the introduction of a mandatory CO2e labeling menu appears to be a contender for a proactive initiative to support the region’s commitment to the environment. No agenda has yet been confirmed for either event and there is a lot to do to prepare for any CO2e menu labeling initiative, but signing up for our #makeitplant campaign is a solid first step.
The benefits of incorporating plant-based menu choices are manifold, and as proven, there is now a very real possibility of earning Michelin awards. Such recognition would certainly make the cynics of the movement green with envy.