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.
What are the holidays without comfort food? If you’re looking for something that brings savory and slightly sweet tastes to your breakfast menu, consider the sausage kolache (or klobasnek, according to its Czech roots). A mainstay in parts of Texas, the sausage kolache is a pillowy, mildly sweet dough filled with sausage and cheese. In the Czech Republic, kolaches can be filled with various combinations of fruit, cheese and other ingredients.
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.
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.
Meat replacements are getting a lot of attention lately. But the recent EAT-Lancet Commission report compiled by top nutrition science experts has put a specific target on the amount of meat consumers should eat each week for optimal health and minimal stress on the environment: 3.5 ounces, or just one serving of meat per week. The report also calls for less consumption of poultry and dairy — and says replacing those foods with nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes could prevent as many as 11 million premature deaths per year. As guests clamor for the Impossible Burger and other plant-based proteins, consider working in some of these Mediterranean staples as additional health-focused menu options.
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.
There is a new reason to source your protein from farmers that don’t feed their animals routine antibiotics. The bank HSBC recently issued a report predicting that the use of antibiotics in meat production could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, making antibiotic resistance a more common cause of death than cancer. The report indicated that more than half of the world’s antibiotics are currently used in agriculture, with the U.S. using antibiotics in 70 percent of its agricultural products and China using them in 60 percent of its agricultural products.