Offering plant-based items on your menu isn’t just about having a veggie burger on your sandwich menu or offering to substitute vegetables for animal protein in your pasta dishes. It’s also about finding ways to use plant-based ingredients to make a vegan or vegetarian dish as rich and satisfying as any other entrée on your menu. Think about how you can harness the properties of plants to make soups heartier and sauces creamier. When done well, your guests won’t miss the meat.
Consumers are thinking more about not only their health but the health of the planet right now. Incorporating more plant-based meals into your menu and promoting their environmental, health and ethical benefits can help you support the changes they are making to their diets. A recent report from Meticulous Research estimates that the plant-based market will grow nearly 12 percent annually in the next seven years. Nestlé also reported that 87 percent of Americans are incorporating plant-based protein into their diets. As consumers look to eat more plant-based dishes, restaurants are in an ideal position to make those plants more craveable. Consider updating traditional dishes with plant-based alternatives and changing up presentations to add interest to your menu.
Recent research from NPD Group found that 54 percent of consumers want to incorporate more vegetables into their diets – and that their desire to make their existing eating behaviors healthier is driving it. Restaurant preparation can go far in elevating the appeal of a plant-based dish. As you look to offer more plant-based meals on your menu, consider using global flavors to boost the craveability factor of new dishes, from salads and soups to plant-based side dishes.
Beans are a crowd pleaser in salads, plant-forward burgers and sides. Aside from being a flavorful, satisfying addition to a dish, they have plenty of health and environmental benefits to tout too: High in protein, fiber and B vitamins, they may help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. They’re helpful to the planet and your pantry as well, since they can store well for long periods during supply chain shortages of other ingredients.
Is there anything a chickpea cannot do? Use them in their pure form in hummus or blend them with onions, garlic and spices for nutritious plant-based burger patties. They’re even taking the guilt out of pasta dishes: Try chickpea pasta as a high-fiber, high-protein, low-glycemic, gluten-free substitute for the traditional version.
Just about every week, there is news about a new animal protein that has a vegetable-based or lab-grown substitute that makes a compelling case for replacing the real thing. New and up-and-coming options ranging from plant-based shrimp to lab-grown pork belly and bacon are on offer – and this comes at a time when animal protein continues to be hit by COVID-19 outbreaks in processing facilities and resulting supply chain delays. Granted, consumers still crave animal protein: A report from CB Insights says 30 percent of the calories people consume globally come from meat products. However, the pandemic may be accelerating the plant-based trend, along with an enhanced desire among consumers to choose foods that are environmentally sustainable. (The report said sales of vegan meat soared 264 percent in the nine weeks ending on May 2.) But how much are your guests willing to adjust their eating habits to help climate change? Will a lab-grown alternative really suit someone craving a bacon cheeseburger? A Nielsen report from last year found that only 12 percent of respondents said they would be willing to eat cultured meat in order to reduce their impact on climate change, while 61 percent said they would be amenable to reducing their meat consumption, 43 percent would eat more plant-based proteins, 22 percent would consider vegetarianism or veganism, and 8 percent would consider insect alternatives. But as more animal protein alternatives appear on grocery store shelves, consumers may become more willing to try new options. As a report from the Rail noted, introducing plant-based alternatives on your menu can be a way of gauging your diners’ interest in more daring alternatives: “A guest eating an Impossible Burger now is likely to at least have an interest in a lab-grown burger in the future.”
Focusing on food and restaurant trends may seem like a relic of the old days – as in early 2020 – but even amid the restaurant industry’s current challenges, food trends persist. According to Datassential’s recent research, “The Seven Lessons of a Pandemic,” many of the food trends that were on the rise pre-COVID continue to draw support from consumers. And while comfort foods have enjoyed some added attention during lockdown, the top trends persisting post-COVID have a strong health profile. Simple ingredients, plant-based foods, smoothie bowls, and functional foods and beverages all ranked highly. As you adapt your menus to a fluctuating food supply and uncertain business environment, highlighting the options that can protect health may help you stabilize sales.
Plant-based foods had already been on the rise before COVID-19. Now they may be playing even larger roles on the plate as people look to replace lockdown comfort foods with more health- and environmentally conscious options. At a time when animal proteins have been in shorter supply, first try swapping in plant-based proteins in flavorful recipes where the meat is less likely to be missed
Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they have eaten less meat in the past year then they did prior to that, according to a new Gallup poll of 2,400 adults. Among the respondents, the shift toward consuming less meat was especially true among women, people of color, people living in cities or suburbs, and people living in areas outside of the Midwest. Most respondents reported making these changes for health reasons as opposed to environmental or ethical ones. What’s more, they largely accomplished it simply by eating smaller amounts of meat or by swapping in vegetables or other ingredients in place of meat – and less so by incorporating plant-based burgers, sausages or the other plant-based proteins making headlines. For chefs, the shift toward plant-forward diets is setting the stage for innovation, as well as the recognition of those who are making a mark with the plant-forward menus they create. To celebrate these chefs and their businesses, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) collaborated with EAT Foundation to assemble its annual Plant-Forward Global 50 list. The list spans kitchens that are professional and commercial, upscale and casual, vegetarian/vegan and non, and in the U.S. and abroad. Looking for ideas to infuse your menu with fresh plant-forward options? The CIA and EAT developed a list of cookbooks to accompany the list as well.
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.