Vegetarian chain to be served up soon as food industry adapts

AN EXPLOSION in the number of vegetarian and so-called flexitarian consumers is forcing a rapid change in the food service industry and will soon support the emergence of a dedicated meat-free chain, according to the head of one of the country’s best known vegetarian eateries.

In the UK, sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger is close to buying smaller rival Eat in order to transform its 95 outlets into a dedicated brand catering to vegetarian and vegan consumers.

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“I don’t know if we are there yet, but we will definitely be there soon,” Dairine McCafferty, director of Cornucopia, in Dublin city centre, said.

Cornucopia’s vegetarian restaurant, on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, is a second generation business established in 1986.

But since 2008 it has more than doubled in size from 48 seats to 120, boosted by growing consumer demand. Vegetarianism’s move to the mainstream will also bring more competition to a once niche segment, Ms McCafferty thinks.

“We are a family business, [so] from a business point of view chains aren’t good for us as they have the facility to under-price you, but from an ethical side it’s great,” Ms McCafferty told the Irish Independent.

SuperValu has rolled out dedicated vegetarian/vegan zones across all of its stores.

On a smaller scale, The Happy Pear, set up by twins David and Stephen Flynn in 2004, is already an established consumer brand nationally, stocked in its own outlets and in supermarkets.

In the US, big money is pouring into meat substitute ventures.

Beyond Meat, which manufactures vegan beef and sausage products, this month listed on the New York Stock Exchange, backed by shareholders including former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson.

It reflects one of the biggest shifts in the food industry for decades. Many Western consumers are opting to eat less meat or give it up altogether influenced by health concerns, or environment and animal welfare issues.

Big business is responding with new products. The so-called alternative meat industry could be worth more than $34bn (€30bn) by 2030, with an annual growth rate over the next decade of 40pc possible, according to fund management group TD Asset Management.

Irish agri-foods producers have already latched on. Ireland’s biggest beef processor, Larry Goodman’s ABP Foods, has its own meat-free range in the UK, Equals, which produces plant-based burgers and sausages.

Kerry Group last year acquiring Ojah BV, a Dutch meat substitute company.

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