Vegan Vault: Demand for Plant-Based Meals Grows by 40% for Emirates Airlines
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Emirates Airlines will soon unveil new options as part of its ‘vegan vault’ of in-flight meals, taking its total offering of recipes to over 300. It comes after the carrier witnessed a 40% increase in demand for onboard plant-based dishes.
Emirates, which is one of two flag carriers of the UAE, has witnessed a surge of 40% in year-on-year consumption of plant-based meals (when adjusted for passenger volumes). To meet the growing demand, it will add a host of new recipes to what it calls its ‘vegan vault’, which has over 300 meal options overall.
In terms of absolute numbers, Emirates served over 450,000 vegan meals in 2023, versus 280,000 in 2022 – that’s an increase of over 60%, but when measured in line with passenger volumes, this changes to 40%. In some regions, though, consumption of vegan meals has exceeded the growth in traveller numbers – for example, the Middle East showed a significant additional hike of 34%, while Africa accounted for an extra 4%, and Southeast Asia an added 5%.
Major boosts in demand were also noted on Emirates routes to China, Japan and the Philippines, while the largest rise in vegan meal consumption occurred in Economy Class.
Championing local ingredients alongside global brands
The airline has an array of suppliers from all over the world, but also supports local ingredients. Its kale and lettuce come from Bustanica, the world’s largest hydroponic vertical farm, which was created as a joint venture investment through Emirates Flight Catering. At Bustanica, produce like arugula, mixed salad greens, and spinach are grown without pesticides, herbicides or chemicals. These leafy greens can be enjoyed in certain dishes by First and Business Class passengers.
Apart from that, the carrier sources plant-based proteins from Californian giant Beyond Meat, soy protein from Singapore and UAE-based Arlene, Qianye tofu (a pressed variety made from soy protein instead of whole soybeans) from Japan, organic dark vegan chocolate from Linnolat in France, plant-based margarine from MeisterMarken in Germany, vegan curry paste from Thailand-based Pantai, and almond milk from Italian brand Koita, among many others.
If you’re in Economy, you can enjoy dishes like chickpea crepe with carrot, peppers, mushroom and tomato concassé, textured pumpkin frittatas, tofu tikka masala, coconut mousse with mango compote and a chocolate pudding with cocoa soil. Premium Economy members can opt for meals such as jackfruit curry with basmati rice or a squash chestnut stew, followed by a chocolate tofu cheesecake or raspberry parfait with orange compote.
Travellers in Business Class have the choice between roasted cauliflower with ancient grains, caramelised pear and lovage pesto, or a warming ragout of Asian tofu and shitake mushroom with glass noodles. For dessert, think tropical coconut pineapple cake or a chocolate cheesecake with a dark chocolate cigar and strawberry compote.
Finally, Emirates elevates its plant-based culinary game even further with in-flight meals like polenta cake with thyme mushroom ragout, sautéed spinach and a root vegetable jus, or aubergine curry with charred rice, turmeric potatoes, and coconut and mint chutney. Plus, there are inviting sweet treats like rhubarb tempered with strawberry charlotte, Chantilly cream and raspberry tuille, or warm chocolate fondant with salted caramel sauce and whipped cashew cream.
Interest in vegan in-flight meals is sky-high
While its ‘vegan vault’ might be getting new recipes, Emirates has been offering plant-based meals since the 90s. At the time, requests for these dishes were focused on specific routes like Addis Ababa, where vegan meals are required at certain times of the year by those practising the Ethiopian Orthodox faith, and other regions where multiple faiths encourage plant-based diets.
However, the surge has been rapid in recent years, with vegan meals gaining popularity on the airline’s flights to and from the US, Australia, and some European and Asian nations. Particularly in the last decade, the carrier has noted a sizeable rise in interest towards vegan dishes. It’s not just passengers that have become more drawn towards this diet – many of its staff members are in the same boat, with the airlines introducing vegan food for its cabin crew in 2018.
In 2022, Emirates launched a gourmet vegan menu for First and Business Class to cater to passengers’ evolving demands, whether that was for vegan meals, or just a “healthy and light meal choice while travelling”. And later this year, Emirates will launch a selection of new vegan main courses, snacks, pizza, as well as desserts – including the likes of chocolate pecan cake, pistachio raspberry and raspberry tonka cake.
Emirates’ vegan push mirrors the direction of many other airlines. Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific is a leader in this space, offering a huge range of plant-based meals through partnerships with local businesses. Other carriers, like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic, and Korean Air are just some of the flights where you can get a plant-based meal in certain classes though it’s worth noting that none of them has as extensive a menu for vegans as the Dubai-based flag carrier. Emirates flies high above the rest.