Trend watch: Plant-based meats

Alternative proteins are on fire right now. What just a few years ago seemed like a fad limited just to vegetarians and more adventurous flexitarians is – quite literally – on almost every menu in America. In 2020, the United States plant-based meat market was estimated to be valued at $5 billion, and has grown 29% over the past two years. Over the past year, the growth in sales of plant-based proteins outperformed those of animal-based proteins.

For all ages, plant-based is a go

While it’s easy to assume that plant-based analogs are just for younger, more-veggie focused diners, the facts say otherwise.

Boomers and seniors are experimenting

During the pandemic, 30% of Baby Boomers surveyed had tried plant-based items. And 88% claimed they’d be sticking with food choices they made during the pandemic through 2021. Workplaces and healthcare institutions can take special note of this shifting attitude toward plant-based diets.

Millennial meat matters

More than half of this group, ages 24-39, considers themselves to be “flexitarian,” and are eating plant-based proteins for health reasons, while not giving up meat and dairy altogether. Comprising a significant proportion of repeat customers for online ordering and delivery services, millennial tastes must be recognized by menu developers in restaurants and large-scale dining operations.

Gen Z is on board

65% of youth say they prefer a “plant-forward” diet and more than 3/4 go meatless several times each week. When it comes to sating the palates of this veg-centric generation, major food providers are working overtime to develop a wide array of dishes – and even entire plant-based food halls – at educational institutions.

Techniques, tips, and tools for success

The emergence and staying power of plant-based proteins simply cannot be discounted.

Embrace your fear

It’s perfectly normal to be wary of new ingredients, particularly when the price point of plant-based protein is greater than many land- or sea-based proteins. But lean in to the challenge through experimentation and menu testing.

Equipment needs

While alternative proteins have different cooking requirements than traditional proteins, they don’t require additional equipment. Try using the following:

  • Mixers to whip up chickpea-based meringue.
  • Grills make delicious plant-based kabobs.
  • Food processors make spreads, hummus or plant-based cheese.
  • Combi-ovens keep plant-based proteins and roasted veggies moist.
  • Fryers can help quickly deliver an array of apps and snacks, from plant-based mozzarella sticks to vegan wings.

Addressing prep

Some thoughts to consider as you begin putting more plant-based options on your menu.

  • In-house prep of whole foods like fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables require more labor and impact staff costs and scheduling.
  • Select storage containers that have wicking elements to keep moisture away from delicate fruits and vegetables.
  • Many plant-based proteins don’t require freezing, so they’re ready to cook. This cuts down on cook time, but competes for already-limited fridge space.

Learn more about the latest trends and how to add them appropriately and profitably to your operation. Explore all the top equipment and supplies so you know what’s really worth the investment — only at The NAFEM Show.

Did you know?

Here are just a few brands investing in plant-based menu items:

  • Starbucks tested a totally plant-based location in 2020 and has continued to expand plant-based offerings.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts sates morning appetites with several plant-based protein options.
  • Fast-casual pizza chain Blaze Pizza offers up vegan cheese and chorizo as standard toppings.
  • Ruby Tuesday tested a plant-based burger, and the success resulted in it becoming a menu item.

Top 10 plant-based brands

  • Beyond Meat
  • Impossible Foods Inc.
  • Maple Leaf Foods
  • The Vegetarian Butcher
  • Gardein Protein International
  • Morningstar Farms
  • Quorn Foods
  • Amy’s Kitchen
  • Tofurky
  • Gold & Green Foods Ltd.