"Pub grub" and "healthy eating" might not traditionally have seemed like phrases that belonged in the same sentence...
But with customers increasingly watching their waistlines, many pubs are realising they need to modernise their menus with a view to those looking to eat more healthily.
Of course, the idea of treating themselves with heartwarming traditional fare is often the reason punters go to their local rather than a restaurant, and no-one's suggesting you should pole-axe the pie and chips. But if you can offer some healthier alternatives alongside, you give yourself the best chance of pulling in the diners in 2019.
Introducing healthy alternatives doesn't need to radically overhauling the food side of your business. Many of the ingredients used in higher-fat dishes could also be used in lower-fat and low-sugar dishes, so you don't necessarily need to make major changes to your food supplies.
One option is to to take a traditional 'pub grub' dish and simply make it healthier.
Andrea Deustchmanek, country marketeer for the UK at Lamb Weston, suggests: "Operators can utilise ingredients that are already on their menus and simply swap out other ingredients – for example, 'dirty fries' topped with pulled pork can easily be transformed by swapping the meat for pulled jackfruit."
She adds: "For operators, when catering to this changing demographic it is no longer enough to offer just a salad or stuffed pepper. People want more options and choice when dining out – and it's important to remember that particularly for large dining groups, they will want a location that caters to a variety of dietary requirements."
"Inspiration can be taken from world cuisines which don't traditionally incorporate a lot of meat, such as Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern. Vegan dishes in particular are becoming much more exciting and there is a wealth of innovative ingredients like tempeh and seitan that are becoming more popular and well-known," Andrea says.
The meat-free market
Veganism is indeed growing rapidly at the moment, and while it may still only be a small percentage of people who eschew animal products entirely, the trend for "flexitarianism" should not be ignored. The idea is gaining ground that eating less meat is better for the body and better for the planet, and pubs can no longer afford to treat the vegetarian dish as an afterthought on the menu. Fortunately, there have never been more options available when it comes to creating meat-free dishes.
"As diners are actively reducing the amount of meat they eat, it makes sense to have a range of meat free dishes on pub menus," says Phil Thornborrow, head of foodservice at Quorn. He says health concerns are a major driver of the shift away from meat-eating, with 70 per cent of people giving a "generally healthy lifestyle" as their reason for eating plant-based food.
Quorn and similar meat-free products are high in protein – and a good substitute for flexitarians looking to keep up their protein intake.
"Gone are the days of the veggie bean burger," adds Liz Hesketh, head of foodservice at The Meatless Farm Co. "People are becoming increasingly discerning and it's important publicans can deliver a variety of options."
Meatless Farm Co.'s burgers and mince are made from plant-based ingredients including pea protein and chicory root. Liz says that with these products, "operators can be sure that they're using healthy meat alternatives that not only have strong nutritional profiles but really deliver texture and taste."
As well as helping people reduce their intake of saturated fat, meat-free produce is often is low in salt and sugar and free from allergens.
'Free from' foods
Recent times have seen a long-overdue focus on allergens in the food we serve. But it's not only allergy sufferers who are driving the "free from" trend - gluten-free and dairy-free foods in particular are enjoying a moment in the sun as more and more people embrace them as part of a broader philosophy of healthy living.
Andrea from Lamb Weston says: "Many businesses have already established their free-from options, capitalising on this trend."
"Every operator is undoubtedly aware of this trend but being aware and taking action are two different things – and failing to react or adapt could risk the loss of an edge against competitors."
"Free-from dishes appeal to a huge number of consumers. Larger operators have already started the process and are incorporating tasty free-from dishes onto their menus, so the consumer expectation for these options is growing."
January is traditionally a time to resolve to live more healthily. In years gone by we could perhaps expect to see most of these resolutions go by the wayside in the next couple of weeks as people sack off the salads and get back on the Big Macs. In 2019 though, we wouldn't be so sure.