The rise of vegan travel – how are airlines responding?

While the travel industry faces ongoing disruptions due to rising fuel costs and lack of staff following pandemic cuts, a surge in traveler confidence as many countries abandon pre-flight testing is leading to a perfect storm of supply and demand spawning higher prices. As a service business that often includes the provision of food, aviation is also needing to meet the increasing demand for plant-based products from its travelers.

Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article on the phenomenon of vegan travel, citing growth in “plant-centric hotels, restaurants, festivals and tours as veganism becomes increasingly associated with sustainable travel”. From the consumer side, online groups dedicated to sharing the vegan offerings of airlines and hotels have tens of thousands of members where travel knowledge is crowdsourced and the options, when provided, rated. Airlines that do not offer such options are shamed, a warning to others about individual experiences.

Emirates

In January 2022, Emirates released a statement on their vegan meals being one of the most requested special meals onboard its flights, and noted an increase of 10% in vegan meals requests which it attributed to Veganuary, an international yearly movement that encourages individuals to adopt a plant-based diet during the month of January. The airline also offers a dedicated plant-based menu in its lounges in Dubai.

Vegan Mediterranean Salad offered at Emirates Premium Lounge in Dubai

United Airlines x Impossible Foods

Impossible Meatball Bowl, available exclusively to United Airlines customers

Another example is the recently announced partnership between United Airlines and Impossible foods, with the airline launching an exclusive Meatball Bowl available to first-class customers on the entirety of their domestic flights, while select Polaris lounges at Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, Newark, and San Francisco offer Impossible Sausages as part of their breakfast menu. The in-flight menu has been discussed by United Managing Director of Hospitality and Planning Aaron McMillan as a “really important part of the customer experience”, with travelers able to pre-order the Impossible Meatball Bowl before their flight.

Citing a September 2021 Nielsen report finding that more than half of U.S. consumers are increasing their plant-based food consumption while plant-based meats continue to gain market shares, United stated wanting their “food offerings to evolve and change along with people’s preferences”.

WestJet x Matt&Nat

Another example of vegan-inclusive collaboration within the travel space includes a partnership between Canadian brands WestJet and Matt & Nat where the latter is the provider of an exclusively designed range of amenity kits offered to business cabin passengers on transatlantic flights. As the first vegan-labeled accessories brand, Matt & Nat is renowned for pioneering the use of recycled plastic bottles within the lining of its products.

Matt & Nat amenity kits for WestJet business

On a personal note

While in pre-covid Australia, Jetstar, the budget arm of national airline Qantas, had introduced vegan options to its a-la-carte in-flight menu, I can say from personal experience that it was much harder to source a vegan item aboard a recent international flight despite having purchased a ticket that included a meal. However, the in-flight staff was extremely helpful with the provision of instant noodles and boiling water. As the price of travel rises, I personally wonder if the in-flight plant-based food offering is more of a bonus add-on than an actual selling point as inflation would push travelers to seek the more affordable flights, but I am definitely excited to see more airlines offering inclusive meals for their guests.

There’s a lot more where that came from! If you want to work with me, feel free to get in touch here.

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