Even before the lockdown, plant-based foods were in increasing demand among consumers. The National Restaurant Association included plant-based among their tops trends of the year. As we emerge from lockdown, consumer preferences for healthy, plant-forward options remain – and are worth serious consideration as operators try to manage price spikes on animal proteins ranging from beef to pork to chicken. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in April, grocery prices were the highest they had been in 50 years, with the sharpest increases recorded for meat, poultry, fish and eggs. If you are given the choice between raising the menu price of a burger and removing that item from your menu until prices fall to more manageable levels, could you choose? Or might it be possible to offer a plant-forward option as a third alternative? If your guest base likes to do its part to protect the environment, promote the benefits of substituting a meal of animal protein with a plant-based option. The Environmental Working Group suggests integrating such protein alternatives as lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, peanut butter and brown rice into recipes to shrink environmental impact. Doing so can help you keep a lid on costs too.
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?