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.
Are your guests demanding plant-based substitutes on your entrée menu? If so, they may have a taste for plant-based ice cream. Until now, many of the dairy-free stand-ins for ice cream haven’t been as much about mimicking traditional ice cream but instead offering an alternative to it. Now, as the Impossible Burger and lab-grown meat aim to mimic the full experience of eating a burger, ice cream manufacturers are also harnessing technology to perfect a plant-based product. Eclipse Foods, which produces a dairy-free and allergy-free product that it says is indistinguishable from animal dairy, recently inked deals with the ice cream brands Humphrey Slocombe and Oddfellows, TechCrunch reports. Eclipse flavorings ranging from Miso Cherry to Mexican Hot Chocolate will soon be coming to plant-based ice cream pints in New York and San Francisco. Armed with funding from some heavy-hitting investors, their flavors may be expanding beyond the coasts thereafter.
‘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.
Plant-based proteins, to this point, have largely been branded as a nice-to-have option for flexitarians. But a looming pork shortage (or what some may consider a bacon emergency) could make plant-based proteins a more urgent need. An NPR report estimates that by the end of this year, China’s pig population could be cut in half, which will result in high pork prices in the U.S. The Spoon predicts that the conditions will be good news for the growing number of producers of plant-based pork products – and bacon, in particular. Restaurant operators should also have sufficient bacon alternatives to offer on their menus.
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.