The rise of flexitarianism (i.e. consumers reducing animal-based ingredients in their diet) among those eating out has lead to a demand in vegetarian and vegan options on fast-food restaurant menus in the past couple of years. However, is there really a bright future ahead for this market niche?
In the past five years, the perception of vegetarian dishes has dramatically changed. From being viewed as an alternative for the few of those with food restrictions, “green” alternatives have become one of the leading offers in fast food cafés in several major cities in France.
The number of “healthy food on the go” brands in the country has steadily increased – to 410 from 252 back in 2015-2018, according to a study carried out by WorldWide Studies Group/CHD Expert.
A poll recently conducted among French citizens living in cities has confirmed their interest in reducing the amount of meat consumed – one in five questioned opted for a vegan meal or dish at least once whilst eating out in the last month. Such a flexitarianism approach not only demonstrates customers’ health concerns due to the negative impact of meat consumption, but also shows the appeal of “home-made”, local produce e.g. farm fruits and vegetables.
Exki, “an unprecedented pioneer” of the green movement, is a chain of Brussels-based healthy fast-food restaurants operating across France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It provides diners with high-quality ingredients with respect towards “nature, celebrated for all its richness and the benefits it brings.”
Robin Blondel, Global Head of Product, Supply Chain and Marketing at EXKi, says that “half of our dishes are vegetarian and 30 percent are vegan. At Exki, we also respect gluten- or lactose intolerance, providing clients with delicious alternatives to wheat or dairy.”
Every month, the Belgian brand selects a seasonal fruit or vegetable to work on, creating three or four various dishes around it.
Paris-based salad bar chain, Jour (“day” in French) also claims to have a growing demand in veggie options and thus making sure at least one-third of ingredients to compose salads are of non-animal origin to meet the client’s requirements.
“Around half of our clients opt for a vegan salad when choosing its’ ingredients at the bar stations,” says Thomas Battistini, the founding president of the company. “Our customers’ choice is key to our development and it is crucial in the matter of making the general public aware of seasonal produce, its’ variety and impeccable taste.”
Gaspachos, smoothies, juices and soups, salads and poke bowls, – many of those kind of dishes, fully or partially comprised of vegetables, are frequently found on today’s lunch and dinner menus. Some cafes go even further, switching their menu to vegetarian or vegan 100 percent.
All in all, is flexitarianism a fashionable flare, a momentous drift or something of a more profound nature that will shape the way we see fast food tomorrow? Personally, I feel that what once used to be a somewhat bizarre choice for very few people avoiding products of animal origin has now become a conscious way of consumption for many.
Vegetarianism attracts a wide range of customers for several reasons and that is the main cause for the sales figures in veggie propositions to only keep increasing. For me as a chef, putting vegetable options on the menu or creating gluten-free alternatives to traditional desserts are a perfect motivation to look around and get creative in using what nature has given me.
Besides, vegetables and fruits are also so irresistibly Instagrammable and photogenic that putting them on the plate almost immediately calls for success.
About the author:
Elena Kalmykova is a pastry chef from Moscow, Russia currently working at a 5-star hotel in Paris.
With a course at Ferrandi and an internship at Cafe Pouchkine behind her, she is looking forward to exploring more of Paris gastronomy scene and sharing her experiences with Dispatches.
Follow her around Paris on Instagram: @elena__kalmykova