Open kids’ eyes to the joy of veg

They’re delicious, uber-flexible and affordable. What’s not to like about vegetables? So why are 95% of teenagers and 80% of younger children not eating enough of them? Maybe it has something to do with the startling fact that only £1.20 in every £100 spent on food and drinks advertising goes on vegetables. We’re just not giving these gorgeous creations anywhere need the push they merit and need.

We don’t need to rehearse all of the arguments here for why we should all be sourcing, serving and eating more vegetables. What we need to reassess is the time, attention, love and promotion we are affording them.

Yes, Veganuary participants multiply almost exponentially and the number of flexitarians heads ever skywards, and yet a poster plastered with parsnips is as rare as hens’ teeth. If there’s a consensus that indeed that we all need to veg out more, then let’s help veg consumption grow by giving peas, beans, cavolo nero, pak choi and all those other beauties their moment in the sun.

Restaurants responded positively to our 2017 campaigns Feed Children Well and Serve More Veg and Better Meat. Jamie’s Italian, Zizzi, Wahaca and The PIG were just some of those who signed up to serve veg on every child’s plate.

Shouting about the veg on the menu, marketing it – advertising it if you will – is a big part of making this work.  You can try some of these tactics:

Create visual interest on menus: make veg dishes attractive with photography or fun designs

Take advantage of the fact that kids arrive hungry by serving some raw veg or salad first, while they wait

Tailor activity packs and other kids’ materials to be about the food and veg in particular – it’s an opportunity to get them more engaged

Cooking, serving or presenting vegetables differently, with a twist or bit of imagination, will make them more appealing and more likely to get eaten

When we gathered 20 or so of the country’s finest and most forward-thinking chefs at Fifteen last April, a major rebrand was one of the main actions they all agreed was required if we’re going to execute the shift towards more veg and better meat. That includes premiumising veg as a product and changing consumer perceptions about its value.

Two chefs in particular were inspired to implement significant changes on the menus – one with radical results stemming from the simplest of changes, the other, overhauling the whole concept of one of his restaurants.

Sam Clark walked back into Moro the morning after the dinner and with the subtlest of tweaks gave his customers an almighty nudge. By shifting an already popular dish, the vegetarian mezze platter to the top of the list of main courses, giving it top billing, Sam saw sales rise 30%. He says: “I think there are a couple of main reasons for this. Firstly, psychologically, people see it sitting proud at the top of the menu, rather than at the bottom as some sort of afterthought. The other big thing, is that once a few people start ordering it, others see it coming out of the kitchen and think ‘wow’ that looks amazing. They ask the waiter and then order it themselves.”

Josh Eggleton took more drastic action. Out with the chicken and in with the veg. His wharfside high welfare Chicken Shed re-opened in August as Root – with vegetable front and centre of the menu. Chef Rob Howell’s serves up ten plant-based dishes with three meat or fish sides – taking quite literally our urgings to #FlipTheMenu. It’s met with rave reviews and Josh says he thinks there’s potential for others to follow suit. “As a chef, this is an amazing opportunity. I mean you can be so much more creative. It’s astronomical the amount of things you can do with veg. I’ve always liked dishes that focus on one main ingredient, so we’ll be doing that with these small plate dishes – using fabulous fresh produce like the best carrots or cauliflower and creating dishes around them. There’s nothing like restricting the menu to make a chef even more creative!”

What these examples prove, is that if you give peas a chance, they’ll flourish. These examples cost nothing. What if you put budget behind it? Peas Please, the brilliant campaign run by Food Foundation, has just launched its Veg Power campaign, a crowdfund to help put vegetables on the same footing as other food – with a well-funded independent brand manager for vegetables with a full range of marketing techniques and digital channels at their disposal to increase UK veg consumption. We’re adding our support to that of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, advertising guru Sir John Hegarty and the National Farmers Union. Together we can dig for victory.

Find out more about the fund here, make a donation and join the conversation @VegPowerUK


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