It’s hard to deny the growing mainstream appeal of plant-based foods. The grocery store giant Kroger recently announced it was launching Simple Truth Plant Based, its own line of plant-based burgers and sausages, as a generic alternative to premium plant-based brands. Impossible Foods has won celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jay Z, Serena Williams and Katy Perry. You’re likely experimenting with more plant-based options on your menu. But could you default to vegetables? The University of Cambridge may offer a glimpse into what that might look like for you. Hospitality and Catering News reports that the university’s catering service, which operates 14 outlets and manages more than 1,500 hospitality events each year, removed all beef and lamb from its menus in 2016, replacing those items with plant-based options as part of a new Sustainable Food Policy. In making the changes, the university set out to reduce its consumption of meat, improve and increase the availability of plant-based options, remove unsustainable fish from its menus and reduce food waste. In the process, the university catering service trained its chefs in vegan cooking and its café managers in marketing for sustainability as opposed to profit. In the years since the university implemented its Sustainable Food Policy, it has been able to share dramatic effects with its guests. Despite a rise in how much food the university purchased, overall carbon emissions across the university catering service have dropped by 10.5 percent, according to the report. Further, there was a 33 percent reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased and a 28 percent reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased. Finally, even though food costs have increased since the university launched its policy, its gross profits have increased by 2 percent.
Imagine your favorite protein. Chances are, there is a plant-based, or partially plant-based, alternative to it – and thanks to food technology, most of the up-and-coming options don’t require guests to sacrifice on taste. The Spoon reports that some of the latest additions to the plant-based protein world include Tyson’s Raised & Rooted meat-free chicken nuggets (the company’s half-plant, half beef burgers are next in the pipeline), and plant-based corned beef, which is being served up in sandwiches at select Quizno’s locations in Denver. In the ever-expanding plant-based milk category, Oatly’s parent company recently filed a patent for a quinoa-based option. Finally, at a time when seafood sustainability is of growing concern to operators and guests alike, there is great opportunity for plant-based fish right now – watch for tastes to improve in this category in the coming months.
‘Tis the season for snacking – and dips are always a welcome part of the holiday spread. In Whole Foods’ recent report on food and drink trends for the coming year, dips and dippable spreads feature prominently. It identified a number of plant-based ingredients including grains, beans and seeds that mimic the texture of yogurt and other dairy products. Watch for these newcomers as potential bases for dips. Further, the company sees a growing interest from brands in developing dips and spreads that are not only keto- and paleo-friendly but are also mindful of the environment. Many of these dips and spreads eliminate ingredients like palm oil and include sustainably grown seeds and nuts. Beyond the usual spreads and dips with bases of tahini, chickpeas, peanuts, cashews and almonds, look for new options made from such ingredients as watermelon seeds and pumpkin.
As the plant-forward movement continues to build momentum, innovation is coming in the form of new applications of parts of the plant that haven’t previously made it to the menu. As Technomic’s recent forecast of 7 Key Trends for 2020 predicts, waste-averse chefs are finding uses for such ingredients as beet greens, sweet potato leaves and avocado blossom, as well as snacks, desserts and drinks made from seaweed and sea beans.
Interested in offering more plant-based proteins but can’t quite get past the texture problem? As technology firms attempt to make a burger or steak that replicates the experience of the real thing, they are experimenting with some futuristic ways of delivering it. The Spoon reports that such methods as 3D printing – Novameat and Redefine Meat are two companies using this approach – are being used to print plant protein into fibrous strands that imitate the texture of animal protein. Other companies, including Atlast Foods, Prime Roots and Emergy Foods, are using mushroom roots made through fermentation. But what seems to have the most promise in delivering meat-like texture is gelatin, which melts when cooked and more closely mimics the texture of a steak. Harvard scientists recently reported success in growing cow and rabbit cells on a scaffold made from gelatin.
The plant-based protein trend appears to be one with staying power ― sales of plant-based meat grew 37 percent between 2017 and 2019, according to the Good Food Institute, and demand seems set to increase further. Still, differences are beginning to emerge from operators weighing the pros of adapting their menus to the trend vs. the cons of integrating a processed product into the menu. The Spoon reports that Chipotle, for one, unlike many of its competitors, has decided against offering plant-based meat because it is processed (and therefore conflicts with the brand’s interest in knowing/sharing where its food comes from). Does your brand pride itself on offering fresh food and being transparent about its origins and ingredients? If so, how are you accommodating consumer demand for plant-based protein?
Clamoring to sell a plant-based burger than can pass for meat? There may be good reason to be a late adopter. Amid the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, a number of industry experts have questioned the more processed options available. (Case in point: The Impossible Burger has been criticized for its inclusion of the ingredient heme, which Food Dive describes as an iron-containing molecule made by fermenting genetically modified yeast.) Further, an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors, nutritionists and public health specialists advised that further research was needed to determine if plant-based meat alternatives designed to mimic the real thing were in fact as healthy and beneficial to the environment as they claim to be.
Vegan cheese is on the rise, according to a new report from Persistence Market Research. The report found that globally, 75 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant. That, paired with growing consumer interest in and acceptance of plant-based foods, has resulted in a predicted annual growth rate of nearly 9 percent for vegan cheese over the next decade. That means that vegan cheese is becoming less of an afterthought and more of a canvas for popular flavor on menus. New Food Magazine suggests looking for varieties such as cream cheese, parmesan, cheddar and ricotta.
Even if you don’t think insects have a direct place in the food you serve (cricket cookies, anyone?), they could still play a large role in lab-grown cells that could eventually become replacements for such foods as shrimp, lobster or even hybrid alternatives to plant-based meat. That’s according to a new study out of Tufts University that found that insect cells are especially good building blocks for other proteins because they are safe, nutritional and cost-effective — qualities that put them in a more favorable position than lab-grown beef at the moment. A Fast Company report said that while lab-grown insect meat still has a ways to go before it’s ready to market — researchers still need to determine how to develop the cells into the muscle and fat that builds the meat-like structure of the protein — the study provides a strong basis for insects as the basis of related crustacean-like proteins on menus down the line.
What will your menu look like in 20 years? If new research from the global consulting firm AT Kearney is on target, there will be significantly less meat on it. The study predicts that by 2040, 60 percent of meat will not come from slaughtered animals but will instead be grown in labs or derived from plant-based products that look and taste like meat. We’re already well on our way. On the Spoon’s recent list of the 25 companies creating the future of food, six of the companies represented are involved in developing some kind of alternative to conventional meat. The companies run the gamut, ranging from startup companies making cultured protein (like Shiok Meats – watch for it to crack open the cell-based protein market in Asia) to more traditional protein brands like Tyson. Even though Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S., the Spoon reports, it has invested in cell-based protein companies and Bloomberg reports that it will soon be launching a beef-and-plant hybrid burger consisting of half pea protein and half angus beef.