Probably The Best Vegan Sandwich in the World – Food Industry Insights 2017

20th March 2017

It’s 13 years ago since The Vegan Society published the leaflet with 60 vegan sandwich ideas – one for every year of The Vegan Society to mark The Vegan Society’s Diamond Jubilee in 2004.

It took until 2016 before the food and retail industries finally responded to the demand for vegan food on the go in any meaningful way.

Even in 2017 after all the hype of dramatically rising numbers of vegans and sales of vegan products breaking records, demand still outstrips supply.


2016 – Vegan sandwiches and vegan food on the go reboots

Since the 2016 British Sandwich Association Awards there have been some leaps forward in grab and go vegan food:

  • WHSmith launched some new vegan sandwiches by Urban Eats they also launched some bean-based crisps
  • Tossed – Often seen at motorway services also improve their vegan offer
  • Pret launched 100% Vegetarian store Veggie Pret in Soho London to trial new Vegan items and made it a permanent fixture. The top 5 best sellers are all vegan.
  • American faux meat company Tofurky will be working hard to make vegan ham and cheese and Tofurky plant-based chicken sandwiches available this year following recognition at the Lunch exhibition in 2016.


2017 the year of the Vegan

The vegan awareness campaign Veganuary started with a bang and according to Google Trends vegan trends doubled again:

  • Cranks. Despite a press release by Cranks (the self-professed ‘vegetarian experts’) proclaiming ‘a new range with 12 products launched comprising of six sandwiches, two wraps, two salads and two hot toasties, a quarter of which is suitable for vegans’ the old Humongously Crunchy hummus sandwich still seems the only one available. Unnecessary added dairy yoghurt is the culprit denying us of more choice.
  • Boots also announced a new vegan sandwich but it is proving elusive to find
  • Marks and Spencer, notorious for putting a bit of dairy in everything, chose Veganuary to launch two new Vegan sandwiches which was reported in seemingly every national newspaper. M&S development manager, Helen Brennan said “We’ve seen a huge increase in interest from our customers in vegan eating. We noticed there was a gap in the market for food that vegans can eat on the go for lunch and created two new sandwiches that vegans can enjoy. They are tasty and nutritious I’m sure non-vegans will enjoy eating them too!”



Encouraging Greater Vegan Choices

Things are getting better but it’s still a struggle to purchase something vegan that’s not a hummus and or falafel concoction.

After the 2016 British Sandwich Association Sammies awards that featured no vegan sandwiches in the finals Plamil Foods, who made one of Europe’s very first and successful vegan mayos, decided to help enter some vegan sandwiches into The BSA sandwich designer of the year awards.

Several entries were devised for the 2017 Sandwich Awards using wholemeal bagels with various fillings, an all-day breakfast bagel with smoked VBites tempeh, a Vegan VBites Fishless Finger, seaweed and Plamil in a Bagel, a Mediterranean Vegetable and Bute Island Feta Bagel and a Vegan Pizza Bagel with the new Linda McCartney vegan chorizo and  Vegusto cheese – all bursting with flavour.


Sadly BSA sponsor The New York Bagel Bakery Company decided the cheese bagel version must be used.

The rainbow 5 a day giant sandwich sadly didn’t make it to the semi-finals.


Multiple boxes ticked on suitability

An arrangement was agreed with to check the recipes to make sure there was a full complement of balanced nutrients. The nation’s need to eat more vegetables – a rainbow every day was also taken into account. It tasted great too, all the colours complementing each other.

Because of criticism from Piers Morgan on the TV in 2016 talking about the lack of Sammies entries that looked like sandwiches (the M&S entry was sushi), it was decided to create something that looked traditional and triangular but at the same time by incorporating a rainbow of vegetables made it look unique too.

The giant rainbow sandwich for two made was made with a sponsor’s giant pizza style focaccia featured layers of:

  • (Red) Sundried tomato pesto and crispy marmite marinated smoked tempeh
  • (Orange) Roasted sweet potato and red lentil garlic mash and grated carrot
  • (Yellow) Scrambled tofu, hempseed, turmeric and sweetcorn with Plamil mayo
  • (Green) Mushy peas with pumpkin seeds, seaweed and watercress
  • (Purple) Beetroot hummus with shredded red cabbage

The resultant giant sandwich was designed to be cut into four to make skewered sandwich kebabs – served with cheezy kale chips.


Apparently many people are bored by their lunch choices

A study commissioned recently by Hain Daniels’ New Covent Garden Soup of 2,000 adults suggests millions of workers have been eating the same sandwich or salad every day for last nine months. 58 per cent admit they feel they have had eaten identical meals for ‘as long as they can remember’.

Half of all workers surveyed admitted they ate lunch at their desk and the study revealed 81 per cent of people are ‘bored’ by their lunch choices.

Top ten most common repeat office lunches are;

  1. Ham sandwich
  2. Cheese sandwich
  3. Chicken sandwich
  4. Salad
  5. Baguette
  6. Egg sandwich
  7. Pasta
  8. Jacket potato and topping
  9. Microwave ready-meal
  10. Prawn sandwich

All the above now have easy to find DIY vegan alternatives apart from the prawns that are more easily found online.


Is a Vegan bacon alternative the answer?

In a 2016 Survey by Olive magazine the bacon butty was revealed as the nation’s favourite sandwich with 12% of the vote that pushed the BLT into 3rd place.

In our Vegfest Express survey of VegfestUK followers last year a vegetable sandwich proved to be most popular with 28% of the votes, a big breakfast / vegan bacon/ BLT in 2nd place with 19% of the votes and a veggie sausage sandwich in 3rd place with 11% which pipped a Cranks style hummus sandwich into 4th place.

Clearly the sandwich market could do much better than a hummus sandwich that most sandwich chefs seem to be failing to get their imagination to break free of.


Tempeh – Underestimated Potential

I remain convinced that smoked crispy tempeh fulfils all the criteria for a protein-rich natural vegan alternative to meat sandwiches. There are a number of logistical issues – the main one that no one currently offers ready cooked/smoked tempeh, in the format that caterers such as Pret prefer to be supplied with.

Chefs are reticent to use fake meats and sandwich outlet franchises rarely have the capacity to do anything more complicated than assembling a sandwich. Because they often avoid nuts vegan sandwiches often end up lacking protein. A pre-baked / smoked tempeh could tick all the boxes.


VegfestUK Trade Show

One of our key target audiences at The VegfestUK Trade Show at Olympia is young chefs and we are negotiating with Springboard to help with that.

We are also looking for ways to attract experienced chefs eager to learn about new ingredients to appeal to a swelling vegan customer base and those on plant-based diets.


Let us know your favourites

We have started up a Facebook page to showcase delicious examples of Vegan Sandwiches please feel free to post pictures of your discoveries and creations here.

Tony Bishop-Weston @bishopweston is winner of a number of Vegetarian and Vegan Society catering awards, FSB environment award, VegfestUK Best Vegan Cookbook and The Arthur Ling Memorial Award 2017 He helps run Foods for Life Health and Nutrition Consultancy with Nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston @nutritionistw1

The VegfestUK Trade Show will be at Olympia London (Central Hall Level 1) on Friday October 20th 2017. The website of the event will be live for stall bookings from March 29th 2017 at