From a fringe hippie movement in the 80s to a now widely followed and respected way of life, being a vegan has never been more popular in the UK. With a growing number of vegan restaurants, cookbooks, supermarket brands and YouTube channels, there are now more than a reported 500,000 of us Brits making the switch away from meat to a plant based diet.
According to the Vegan Society, in 2016 there were 542,000 vegans in the UK, a whopping 360% increase in numbers over the previous 10 years. The essence of veganism, according to the Society, is ‘a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’
To help encourage people to give veganism a go, ‘Veganuary’ was launched in 2014 with 3,300 people signing up, pledging to be vegan throughout the month of January. In 2017, the number of signatures Veganuary received was 168,000. Today the word ‘vegan’ is everywhere – in the papers, online and in restaurants and supermarkets.
With a growing number of loyal followers, it’s no wonder veganism began to have an impact on our high streets. Instead of scouring restaurant menus trying to find something they were able to eat, vegans started to open their own restaurants and due to their success, several of these became chains.
Recent vegan restaurants opening across the UK include pizza brand Purezza in Brighton, V-Revolution in Manchester and Maitreya Social in Bristol, along with countless others in London where vegan food festivals and markets are a common occurrence.
In July 2017, the UK plant-based burger diner The Vurger Co. hit its Crowdcube fundraising target within 30 hours of £150,000 to open their first restaurant, eventually raising £300,000 following their pop-up stand success at festivals.
With the demand for new vegan restaurants being one high street chains could only hope for, many have begun adapting their own menus in an attempt to win customers back.
JD Wetherspoon, Leon and Wagamama have all introduced their own vegan menu range in restaurants, Pizza Hut joins Pizza Express and Zizzi in offering vegan-friendly pizzas and cafes such as Pret a Manger have also started selling vegan-friendly options.
It’s not just chain restaurants who have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon, supermarkets are also releasing their own free-from and vegan lines. Tesco have created a vegan cheese range and have appointed a ‘Director of Plant-Based Innovations’ to move their vegan range forward, Asda have released a line of vegan-friendly lunches and Sainsbury’s have a fairly extensive range of vegan-friendly food including coconut ice lollies, lentil burgers and ice cream.
In recent years veganism has benefitted from a conscious rebranding and is now much cooler than it used to be, thanks to coverage by the mainstream media and celebrity endorsements. The focus has moved away from the idea you have to make hard sacrifices to become a vegan, and instead is promoting the health benefits you can gain – an ethos restaurant chains and supermarkets have quickly cottoned on to and cashed in on.
Today, the ease of acquiring vegan food brands in supermarkets and plant-based dishes in restaurants, along with the change in attitude by society towards veganism means it’s unlikely the rising number of followers is unlikely to slow down any time soon.
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