Chefs Prep More Plant-Based Products

Chefs and food influencers, both vegan and meat-eating, have over the years participated in collaborative initiatives involving plant-based dishes, such as creating limited-time menus in colleagues’ vegan restaurants, introducing other chefs’ vegan menu items in their own restaurants, or participating in pop-up vegan dinner experiences. They have also slowly become more active in partnering with consumer goods companies, quick-service restaurant chains, and foodservice providers to develop vegan products and menu items for a wider audience.

As this month is Veganuary—an increasingly high-profile promotional period driven by a U.K.-based nonprofit group to educate about plant-based eating—it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the chef-driven vegan product initiatives that have come to light in the last year:

  • Amanda Cohen this month partnered with Just Salad, a sustainability-focused chain centered in the Northeast U.S., for an exclusive menu item commemorating Veganuary. Named after Cohen’s Dirt Candy vegetarian fine dining restaurant in New York, the vegan Dirt Candy Salad is on the winter menu at all of Just Salad’s restaurants. It contains two limited-time toppings, pepperoncini and Castelvetrano olives, that are new to Just Salad’s array of ingredient offerings. The salad also contains romaine, arugula, sesame tofu, cucumber, broccoli, and pumpkin seeds spiced with Tajin chili and lime seasoning.
  • Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of the classic French fine dining restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, launched three limited-edition Vegan Fy salad dressings with Nature’s Fynd in July 2023. The Zesty Goddess, Miso Caesar, and Herbed Ranch dressings were developed using Nature’s Fynd’s Fy fungi-based protein and sold online. Ripert, who is known for his sauces, serves as a culinary advisor to Nature’s Fynd, which markets everything from meatless breakfast sausage to dairy-free cream cheese.
  • In April 2023, vegan influencer Tabitha Brown paired with McCormick for a line of vegan seasoning blends, building on a one-off product, Sunshine All Purpose Seasoning, that the two partners developed in 2021 and was a sell-out at launch. An additional four blends joined Sunshine last year, including Very Good Garlic All Purpose Seasoning, Taco Business Seasoning Mix, Burger Business Seasoning Mix, and Sauté Business Seasoning Mix. The names of the last three are inspired by Brown’s catchphrase, “That’s your business.” Brown also launched a limited-edition vegan food line at Target in 2023, part of a broader array of collaborative products including home goods and apparel. The first vegan range, which included entrees, sides, and sauces, sold well, leading to plans for a permanent range of foods expected to debut in 2024.
  • Brooke Williamson, TV personality, restaurateur, and winner of season four of Top Chef, paired with foodservice company Sodexo and its corporate dining division Modern Recipe in late 2023. She is charged with developing seasonal, mostly plant-based recipes that will be served in corporate cafeterias. The inaugural fall menu included grain bowls and naan wraps featuring seasonal ingredients such as kale and sweet potatoes. Thirty-five percent of Sodexo’s menu items are vegan and another 15% are vegetarian.

Similar initiatives over the past five years or so have included barbeque restaurant owner Neil Rankin partnering with Shake Shack’s U.K. restaurants on a limited-edition vegan burger that later became a permanent menu item; pastry chef Sébastien Canonne pairing with bread and pastry company Bridor to launch a bread line under the vegan and clean Boulangerie Cuisinée brand, mostly for foodservice channels; vegan chef and Food Network champion Priyanka Naik collaborating with meal-delivery platform Territory for a globally inspired meal; and vegan food influencer Gaz Oakley working with U.K. pan-Asian restaurant chain Wagamama for several drops of limited-edition menu items.

In addition to creating menu items and consumer product offerings, chefs are increasingly signing deals to promote vegan products and advise on their development. One recent example is Gordon Ramsay’s agreement with Borealis Foods in July 2023 to serve as brand ambassador, shareholder, and advisor for the company’s Chef Woo and Ramen Express brands. The focus of the collaboration is on addressing food insecurity, but these are plant-based offerings—Chef Woo is billed as the first plant-based noodle brand—which is notable in that Ramsay has been known to mock vegan and vegetarian cooking and consumers in the past. More recently, however, he has admitted that he loves some vegan foods.

The first Raugust Communications’ e-newsletter of 2024 comes out next Tuesday, January 16. The Licensing Topic of the Month will take a look at the many recent mergers affecting the licensing business, while the Datapoint research spotlight will examine the very active cosmetics category. If you are not yet a subscriber to this free publication, you can sign up here.

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