‘They do taste nice’: consumers spoilt for choice for vegan fast-food options | Food
Forget food storage boxes with leftover nut roast and bean curries, the quarter of a million Britons set to ditch animal products for Veganuary this month are unlikely to be stuck for on-the-go options.
On the first working day of 2020 several food retailers started selling new meat-free options, including KFC, which launched its first vegan burger nationwide. Greggs, the UK’s largest bakery chain, also launched a meat-free version of its popular steakbake following the exceptional success of its meatless sausage roll last year.
McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway and Costa similarly unveiled new meat-substitute items on their menus, while supermarkets including Aldi and M&S ramped up their takeaway vegan efforts with everything from fishless “Tuno” sandwiches to fake smoked chicken wraps.
Among the consumers eager to sample some of the latest meat-free fast offerings on Thursday lunchtime were Liadhan O’Ryan, 28, and James Chambers, 29, who had headed to the Deansgate branch of KFC in Manchester specifically to grab a couple of its new quorn-fillet burgers.
Chambers, a musician and lecturer who has been vegetarian for five years, admitted the £3.99 burger, with an original-recipe KFC coating and vegan mayo, was unlikely to fool diehard meat-eaters. “You can tell it’s vegetarian, but it is nice,” he said.
O’Ryan, a postgraduate student who was raised vegetarian, was more conflicted. “You’re still supporting [a retail chain] that’s making money from killing animals,” she said. But she added that cheap meat-free options at fast-food outlets made veganism more accessible.
“Sustainability, veganism and that sort of thing is often seen as quite a middle-class problem, and that’s something I’m aware of,” said O’Ryan.
Charlotte Luff, 26, who was picking up her first Veganuary lunch after popping out from the travel agents where she works around the corner, agreed with O’Ryan. “A lot of people are under the impression that vegan options are expensive in general, so that’s why stuff like KFC and Greggs options are so popular,” she said.
Other diners were unsure about the burger’s taste. “It’s reasonably harmless, but the flavouring’s not as prominent as the chicken would be,” said Alex White, 49, as he tucked in.
After his 15-year-old son decided to become vegetarian as a new year resolution because of the climate crisis, White’s family had decided to reduce their overall meat intake.
Although the manager at the store said the new addition was “flying”, White doubted he’d be back for more – “I’d prefer a bean burger like the one at McDonald’s,” he said.
A few doors down on Deansgate, customers at Greggs seemed to be more sold on the new £1.55 vegan steakbake – with the store’s batch of 48 all snapped up shortly after 1pm.
Laura Cobham, a 20-year-old fashion student at the University of Salford, was delighted with the latest offering, having turned vegan four years ago for both ethical and dietary reasons.
“I went to three Greggs stores when the vegan sausage roll came out just to get one – they were so good, this is good too,” she said between mouthfuls of the bake, made from quorn, onions and meat-free gravy. “Two years ago, it was difficult to find places to eat, but now there’s so many cheap options.”
Her boyfriend, Joe Swain, 21, a graphic design student also studying at Salford, eats meat but gave the steakbake the thumbs up. “I’d definitely buy that one over the meat one,” he said.
Seated nearby, Sarah Taylor and Peter Milne, both 63, were eating tried-and-tested beef steakbakes, having ordered out of habit. “I’ve just been looking at the vegan ones though, and they do look lovely,” said Taylor.
According to a recent study from the supermarket chain Waitrose, one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan, with food choices assuming an increasingly important role in countering the climate crisis. But not everyone snapping up the pastry snacks was making a concerted effort to switch to a completely meat-free diet.
Anthony Dent, 51, eating at the nearby store on King Street, is one of the UK’s estimated 22 million “flexitarians”, who enjoy meat but want to reduce their intake.
His first taste of the vegan steakbake had in fact been influenced by his daughters Olivia, 13, and Heather, 10, who is vegetarian. “They do taste nice, but I eat meat. I’m just being influenced by the younger generation to eat less,” he said.
Tearing into a bake on her way to the office, fellow flexitarian and civil servant Rachel, 31, said she would be trying to exercise more self-control when it came to vegan fast food this year.
“When the vegan sausage rolls came out I had one for breakfast every day for about two months and had to stop because I was getting a bit fat. I could definitely have this for breakfast though,” she said.