Wagamama launches Veganuary menu and meat-free pledge in face of pandemic woes

Restaurant group Wagamama has vowed that half its menu will be meat-free within a year as it ploughed ahead with a new Veganuary menu launch despite crippling Covid-19 restrictions across the UK.

The noodle and katsu chain confirmed all its sites have closed for dine-in after the Government rolled out tighter restrictions, with more than three quarters of England’s population now in Tier 4.

But it is keeping 118 of its 148 sites open for takeaway and click and collect and is pressing ahead with a new vegan-themed menu for Veganuary.

Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods
Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods wants 2021 to be the ‘year of change’ (Wagamama/PA)

Launching on January 5, it will offer a raft of meat-free alternatives to its popular dishes such as vegan chilli squid, sticky ribs, firecracker curry and no duck donburi.

The firm, which is part of The Restaurant Group, is also championing the ever-growing vegan movement with a pledge to increase meat-free options on its main menu to 50% by the end of 2021.

Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods said while it “feels bonkers” to launch a new menu in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic, the group wanted to ensure 2021 is a “year of change”.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “2021 feels like a year that we should be trying to make a positive impact.

“For us, that’s about championing a plant-based diet. That’s one of the promises we’re making as a business.”

The new menu forms part of its Small Choices, Big Change campaign, which is being kickstarted in response to climate change concerns, with research suggesting switching to a vegan diet can help reduce personal carbon emissions by up to 73%.

“Vegan choices should be so delicious that everyone should want to include them in their lives, whether a strict vegan or someone who has never thought of themselves as a vegan before,” said Ms Woods.

“As Covid causes us all to press pause on so many things, let’s make sure we fast forward the small decisions which can better our planet”.

The group, whose executive team supports Veganuary each year, has already increased the number of vegan dishes on its menu from 16% in 2017 to more than 40% now.

Its executive chef Steve Mangleshot, who launched a popular free online cooking show called Wok from Home in the first lockdown, will be presenting further tutorials focused on vegan recipes throughout January.

The menu launch comes as the restaurant and wider hospitality sector faces immense pressure from enforced closures due to coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Woods said the Government’s move to secure an eleventh hour Brexit deal was an “absolute relief” amid the maelstrom.

Wagamama has proved resilient so far in the crisis, having closed only four of its restaurants permanently while scores have been shut by many of its rivals.

With restaurant rents coming down in many areas, Ms Woods said the group may even look to expand where there are opportunities.

But she said her focus would be on navigating the chain through the current crisis and “trading our current business as efficiently as possible and protecting as many jobs as possible”.

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