Veggie dishes: the opportunity that the hospitality industry should take advantage of

In full carnivorous effervescence, with a boom in gourmet hamburgers, steaks, grills, fire… the vegetable movement overcomes fashions and changes in consumer habits and shows that it is here to stay. An opportunity that those in hospitality should take advantage of, and here they will find interesting advice…

By Marta Renovales, a journalist with

Is veggie losing steam? This is stated in the fourth edition of the Lantern consulting firm’s The Green Revolution report: the plant-based wave, unstoppable until 2021, appears to have slowed down since the end of the pandemic restrictions. In the last two years, 600,000 members have been lost, but don’t panic: the veggie movement, removing the effect of the pandemic, has increased from 9.9% of the Spanish population in 2019 to 11.4% in 2023.

Specifically, up to 4.5 million Spaniards over 18 years of age identify themselves as ‘veggies’, of which 3.5 million consider themselves flexitarians (they follow a predominantly plant-based diet but sometimes consume meat or fish); 670,000 are vegetarians; and around 276,000, vegans. Specifically, the group of vegans and vegetarians is now approaching one million people.

There is, therefore, no reason to worry about the ‘stopping’ of the veggie trend: “we remain positive regarding the plant-based trend in the medium and long term, due to the combination of factors such as the growing adoption of conscious consumption habits, especially among younger people; the notable improvement in satisfaction with the category; and the arrival of new technologies that will allow the creation of new products,” explains Jaime Martín, founding partner and CEO of Lantern.

An opinion shared by ProVeg, a food awareness organization that has the goal of reducing global animal consumption by 50% by 2040. “We continue to see the trend with optimism despite the slowdown in growth,” says Verónica Larco, its communications director.

“While it is true that the bulk of the veggie population has decreased, especially the flexitarian part, the number of vegetarian people has grown. On the other hand, although it has decreased compared to the last report in 2021, the veggie population today is higher than in the previous report in 2019. These are not data that surprise us and we know first-hand that producers, brands and retailers view the market and the potential it continues to have with optimism,” he explains.

A potential that fast food chains have quickly seen, always attentive to new consumer trends, and that increasingly offer more and more plant-based options to their customers, in addition to allying themselves with brands of plant-based products. According to a study by Proveg, Subway leads the ranking in Spain with the highest percentage of plant-based dishes, which does not mean giving up its philosophy, but rather expanding its offer and taking advantage of it as a business opportunity.

A still scarce offer

Despite the gradual increase in vegetable options on the menus of organized restaurants, especially, and to a lesser extent in independent restaurants, the offer is still insufficient and, in fact, eating out is one of the biggest obstacles people encountered when it comes to following a plant-based diet, says Verónica Larco.

It is in vegetable protein where the greatest failure occurs. “Many times it is offered to simply remove animal protein from a dish as a vegetable option, and other times, when creating a plant-based dish, only vegetables are thought of, leaving legumes, cereals and vegetable alternatives to meat, when they are the main sources of vegetable protein,” she explains.

“In addition to this, the vegetable supply is still scarce, and thanks to the 2nd Edition of the Veggie Population Survey that we have just published from ProVeg, we know that 64% think that it is not easy to find 100% vegetable options in restaurants.”

Data that shows that hospitality professionals are not seeing the business opportunity of offering vegetable dishes. “Many times it is thought that vegetable dishes are ‘only for vegans’, when in reality a much larger audience is being covered, including the vegetarian population, the flexitarian population and even sectors with allergies or intolerances. Furthermore, a veggie person can be the decisive factor, within a group of friends or family, when choosing one restaurant or another: the one with vegetable options will be the one who wins,” says the Communication Director of ProVeg.

Common mistakes when selling “veggie” dishes

And now to the big question… do those in hospitality today know how to “sell” their offer of plant-based dishes to their customers? “The main mistake is offering vegetable options that are not tasty,” says Larco. “According to our survey, 65% disagree with the statement that the vegetable options in non-veggie restaurants are tasty and elaborate. If this is so, those people are not going to come back.

“On the other hand, a very common mistake is not knowing how to present veggie dishes in an appetizing way on the menu, or presenting them as the ‘healthy and boring’ option. The mistake is also made of highlighting “the lack of” (e.g.: “without meat”), instead of highlighting what it does have,” says Larco.

Thus, ProVeg recommends that when naming dishes, words are chosen that focus on the culinary theme of the product, the sensory experience or the brand, minimizing the use of words such as “vegetarian” or “plant-based” and completely avoiding words as “vegan”, “vegetarian”, “meat-free” or “low-fat”, since the general public can feel excluded “and even induces sensations of lack of flavour, boredom and low satiety.”

But it doesn’t stop there. “Another complaint that we highlight from the survey results is that 55% think that it is not clear or easy to know what the vegan/vegetarian options are on the menu. For this reason, at ProVeg we recommend presenting the veggie dishes with a small symbol (without standing out but enough to be recognized) and within the usual menu, but also having a section that contains only the vegetable dishes.

One last piece of advice: the same vegetable dish that is presented with a message about its lower environmental impact is chosen more than twice as often as one that does not display any information. We must not forget that more and more people are concerned about the impact on the environment.

The plant-based offer

The market for plant-based meat alternatives is expected to exceed €1 billion in 2026, approximately double that of 2020. Are food companies responding to the catering industry’s needs for plant-based products?

“It is a sector in which there is still a long way to go, both on the part of food companies, which have to offer a greater variety of products or provide training for the use of these new products, and on the part of the hospitality sector, which many times do not see the potential of the veggie offer or the potential of their own menu to be easily ‘veganizable’ with the change often of just one ingredient in their dishes,” explains the Director of Communication at ProVeg.

“We miss the variety of products within the same category, but also the variety in general: vegan hamburgers are good, but the population already demands something more than a hamburger.”

Something that a company like Heura, a pioneer in the plant-based market in Spain, knows very well. Born in 2017 in Barcelona “to empower people to change the current food system for a more sustainable, healthy and nutritious one”, today it sells its meat alternative products almost all over the world.

Last May, it raised 3.4 million euros through crowdfunding, and is immersed in the launch of cold meats, whole cuts (meat and fish) and dairy products, all 100% plant-based. Their latest novelty has been the thin slices of 100% vegetable “cooked ham”, which will soon be launched in the horeca channel.

A channel that, in Spain, today accounts for 25% of its sales, and with good growth prospects. “The evolution has been very positive throughout these years, especially post-pandemic; “We have expanded our penetration in the Spanish market thanks to agreements with large organized catering brands and creating a nationwide distribution network to reach more independent points of sale,” says Núria Serra Canadell, Head of Sales Food Service at Heura. “We have more than doubled the points of sale with presence and, whenever possible, prioritizing brand activation in the last three years.”

Canadell explains that they have not noticed a stop in demand for their catering products: “thanks to the importance that the sector is giving to offering solutions suitable for all types of consumers (perhaps expanding its target consumer in some cases), at Heura we have not noticed a stoppage, but rather a willingness to offer solutions for all types of diets: vegan, flexitarian, etc.”

Heura‘s list of launches has been unstoppable in recent years: from the emblematic “non-chicken” bites, its first and successful product, through hamburgers, meatballs, chorizo, sausages, sausages, nuggets, breaded schnitzels… to breaded steaks and breaded fish-flavoured sticks, all 100% vegetable.

However, in restaurants, the bites continue to be the brand’s star product, the most culinary versatile and the most recognized. In addition, this year they have renewed their burger, turning it into Burger 3.0, which is today the fastest growing product in the channel. “Burger 3.0 is synonymous with pleasure, and even more so once applied in concept, thanks to the solutions offered by our hospitality clients,” says Canadell.

The foodservice channel is also key for Zyrcular Foods, a global supplier of alternative protein solutions, with proposals adapted to the hospitality sector. “As manufacturers, we adapt our products according to the needs of the sector, standing out for our flexibility and customer focus,” explains Jordi Moré, head of Food Service at the company.

Looking ahead to 2024, the prospects for growth in the channel are very good. “The general trend in catering is moving towards the incorporation of 100% vegetable options in their offerings, which is a reflection of a paradigm shift in consumer preferences,” explains Moré. This is why we expect this trend to grow, even if moderately, and a greater adaptation to the customers’ offer. We know that consumers, whether vegetarian or not, value very positively the fact that menus include some 100% vegetable options. And for caterers, the inclusion of 100% vegetarian options is seen as an effective strategy to differentiate themselves and meet the changing preferences of both existing and potential consumers”.

New products from these and other brands can be tried at Alimentaria and in its trade fair Restaurama, focused on food for foodservice, together with the offer of numerous companies specialized in plant-based products.

This is the case of Liquats Vegetals with its brand YoSoy , a pioneer in vegetable drinks in Spain. Their YoSoy Barista drink, clean label, is perfect for coffee: no additives, no gluten and no added sugar, it is not harsh when mixed with coffee and gives it body and flavour.

The brand is going to continue strengthening its barista range, and especially in the horeca channel, for which it has an ambitious growth plan to double its sales in three years, explains Mery Dorca, its Communication Manager. “We want to be present in all of our consumers’ consumption moments and we foresee that this channel will be one of the main drivers of growth for our brands. Today we have a 60% market share in the mass-market barista segment and we believe we can replicate the same success with our excellent barista products.”

According to a recent study by YoSoy, 4 out of 10 coffee consumers already combine it with a vegetable drink. “We can see how more and more bars and cafés offer vegetable drinks; the consumer also expects to be able to find his drink in establishments outside the home, for example, at breakfast time. Initially, most stores only had soy drinks, while currently, there is a greater commitment to having the oat variety, which is what consumers request the most,” says Mery Dorca.

At Alimentaria-Restaurama, the latest launches from Sanygran for the hospitality industry will also be made known, such as its new wet extrusion products such as Roast Chicken Flavour Bites and Mediterranean Flavour Bites, in 1.5kg bags in 2 unit boxes.

Likewise, professionals will be able to discover the original flavours of Flax&Kale kombuchas, a healthy alternative to traditional soft drinks that are a best-seller; the beetroot burger or Veggie Bacon from Ardo, or the award-winning Simple Pops snacks, from Snack’In For You, made with rice, chickpeas, peas and broccoli: a vegetarian, halal, gluten-free snack, high in protein and rich in fibre, just to name a few examples of a varied plant-based offer that will surprise more than a few people.