Editor's Letter: October 2017

Plant power
Laura Aiken
September 14, 2017
Written by
As a precipitously carnivorous person, I find myself in a bit of a quandary these days. I used to think nothing of eating a blue T-bone steak the size of a dinner plate — with pride. Now it seems a bit savage. My cupboards house lentils and black beans; former mere acquaintances to my intestinal abode.
A slab of beef comes my way and I wonder what it’s doing to my arteries. I wonder if it misses its cow family. I merrily eat it anyway. It tastes so good. But I eat it medium-rare on the rare side now in a step towards civility.

If this momentary-meat-doubt, this flexitarian way of thinking could happen to me, it could happen to you. And it’s definitely happening to your consumers. For ethical and health reasons, plants are climbing the eatery echelon. I ordered a main course a couple years ago that was just a carrot, roasted for some inconceivable amount of hours, and that’s when I knew vegetables had made it.

You don’t have to take my word for it. The trend is all over the media. Mintel called out “Power to the Plants” as one of its Global Food and Drink Trends for 2017. Our Final Proof columnist and leading dietitian Jane Dummer echoed this sentiment in her blog’s IFT 2017 roundup. The ball has been rolling for a while: Latest Vegan News reported that “search interest in the term “vegan” increased 32 per cent in the U.S. from 2014 to 2015.” Much baking is already vegetarian, so I have focused on vegan here and in our feature story on page 24.

First gluten-free became a pretty standard offering in bakeries, and now I see something vegan (made with no animal products) alongside it or in combination with it. It’s not just for the vegan consumer as the cumulative evidence suggests the swell of growth is in the adoption of a more flexitarian approach. A 2015 survey commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society suggested that 33 per cent of Canadians are either vegetarian (eight per cent) or eating less meat (25 per cent).  In April 2014, Harvard Medical School reported that about 2.5 million Americans 55 and older had given up red meat and poultry for a more plant-based diet.

Plants are undeniably healthy (except for the toxic ones of course, and the mind-altering ones still up for debate). Vegan is a natural hit for today’s conscious eater, even if only part-time. There is more acceptance that vegan tastes good. There is less questioning of the ingredients, or greater assumption that they are inherently healthier.

As vegan shifts into the mainstream, you will see more prominence in grocery store isles and more expectation from consumers that you have something to offer in that niche. If you haven’t experimented with vegan baking, now is the time. People are receptive. The chances that one person in a group is vegan seems to be increasing.

Plants have always been a big part of baking — look no further than flour and sugar. So are dairy and eggs. This squad is here to stay, but so are the alternatives. If it’s a fit for your bakery to expand your line-up to include vegan offerings, the general sense seems to suggest there’s a market for it.

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