They said that 2019 was the Year of the Vegan. As well as unprecedented plant-based launches in UK supermarkets and restaurant chains, we were blessed with the Greggs vegan sausage roll. But almost two weeks into 2020, and 2019’s crown has already been stolen. Fast food brands have finally woken up and smelled the delicious aroma of the vegan pound. From KFC to McDonald's, countless new products have launched to coincide with Veganuary, the yearly post-Christmas challenge to try a vegan diet for one month.
However, it is important to acknowledge that not all vegan offerings are made equal – not everything can be a vegan sausage roll level triumph, after all. In the flurry of relentless vegan launches, we here at VICE UK thought it important to sort the wheat (gluten) from the chaff, and decide which Veganuary launches are the best (we are nothing if not public servants.) We’re not barbarians, though, so we did put some guidelines in place:
– We decided to focus on fast food as it’s the most widely available type of item, and convenience food is what the vegan market has been most sorely missing. Thus, the foodstuffs tested here must be convenience foods from national or international chains, available in store or via delivery.
– We didn’t include the Burger King Rebel Whopper because despite being plant-based, it’s not actually vegan.
Anyway. Here’s the authoritative word on the hits and misses of Veganuary 2020.
6. MCDONALD'S VEGGIE DIPPERS
Imagine some baby food vegetable risotto but deep-fried and also costing you £3.59. That’s all I have to say about the new McDonalds veggie dippers. They have no taste. They are no fun. I still don’t understand why they didn’t release a vegan Big Mac? Also, as I was reminded by some really furious vegans online when I ate them earlier this year, they contain palm oil, so they’re neither cruelty free nor healthy. In other words: don’t waste time with this pointless food item. Daisy Jones
5. SHEESE AND RED ONION KETTLE CHIPS
Compared with this year’s other genuinely life-changing Veganuary drops, the new vegan cheese and onion Kettle Chips seem a little underwhelming. (Greggs vegan steak bake, however, eternal thanks to you for gracing us with your presence).
Still, Kettle Chips new flavour, made using the popular plant-based cheese, is a very welcome addition to the vegan snacking repertoire. One salty bite and I’m immediately transported back to Year Eight, inhaling a bag of Quavers next to the vending machines on morning break. The crisps have strong Cheddar undertones, and there’s enough onion seasoning to provide that satisfyingly pungent I-really-need-a-breath-mint-now aftertaste. I would happily eat an entire sharing bag at my desk and avoid talking to colleagues for the rest of the day. Vegan prawn cocktail crisps next, pls? Phoebe Hurst.
= 3. PIZZA HUT PEPPERPHONI PIZZA
Long time vegan here, and usually not a fan of vegan pizza. The fake cheese is always too cloying, the toppings either pathetic (vegetables) or bad fake meat (weird, glutenous and grey). Pizza Hut has changed all that, with one of the top five vegan pizzas I can remember eating. The pepperoni is just ("just"! lol) compressed discs of pea protein that taste convincingly of cheap pepperoni. The cheese is a mix of vegan Cheddar and some sort of interesting orange cheese/sauce (?!) that had melted and mixed with the tomato sauce. Basically, it’s a great option for anyone doing Veganuary who eats a lot of red meat. It tastes like a little slice of heaven to me, Mr. Hut. Hannah Ewens.
= 3. GREGGS VEGAN STEAK BAKE
As a Greggs stan, I have been dreaming of the day when I could lock my desiring lips around a plant-based steak bake. Finally, on the 2nd of January, I got my wish. After the runaway success of its vegan sausage roll, Greggs had a proven mandate for vegan versions of their classique dishes. Hopefully, the steak bake is just one item in a long line of vegan launches for the greatest food manufacturer in the UK.
The bake itself is a delight – flaky pastry, rich onion gravy, and a very substantial size for the £1.55 price. If only the Quorn steak replacement was slightly chunkier – rather than mince-y, which is still delicious, but less true to the original steak bake – then we may have had a winner on our hands. Lauren O'Neill.
2. SUBWAY VEGAN MEATBALL MARINARA
“A life without a meatball marinara is a life half lived,” the famous adage goes. This was the fate faced by all vegetarians and vegans – until now. The launch of the Meatless Marinara is – and I don’t say this lightly – huge fucking news in the vegan world, and let me tell you: the flavours deliver in the trashiest, most delicious way.
Fundamentally, the best thing about this sub is that it basically resembles the meat one. You have the rich, sweet marinara sauce coating some sort of meat-like balls, which are close enough in texture to beef to feel genuine. Good, thicc bois! You can even add vegan cheese, which is, of course, totally flavourless, but does melt and looks good. It should be illegal that it’s possible to purchase 12 inches of this goodness for £6. Ruby Lott-Lavigna.
1. KFC ZERO CHICKEN BURGER
For decades, KFC has been the forbidden fruit for anyone who doesn't eat meat. As a longtime veggie, I haven't visited the Colonel for 14 long years, failing to fill this zinger-sized gap in my life with mock "southern fried bites" and various seitan imitations. The chain didn't even bother selling a vegetarian option – until now. Veganuary 2020 brings us the KFC "zero burger", a vegan Quorn fillet made with zero chicken (geddit?) but the requisite 11 herbs and spices.
The burger's crispy batter, tender chicken-y texture and satisfying crunch are exactly right, with a perfect coating of vegan mayo holding the whole thing together. They even added a slither of lettuce to at least make you think you're eating something healthy. Crucially, it doesn't taste like Quorn, which should be taken as a huge compliment.
The only downside is the zero burger's size. It's tiny and I want a family bucket of this stuff. Jack Cummings.