Vegans, Vegetarians, and Flexitarians, OH MY. How to Update Your Menu for Today’s Plant-Based Craze

What you need to know to meet the demand with delicious, craveable menu items.

It was predicted that plant-based fare will rule supreme in 2019. It wasn’t a bad guess. With so many major restaurants announcing their new plant-based meat analogs, there is no doubt that the plant-based craze has come to the mainstream. It can be a challenge for restaurants to develop menu items that consumers will actually like and that fit with your concept. Let’s take a look at who the customer is for this trend and some of the options that exist beyond the more common plant-based burgers.

Introducing the Flexitarian

This newsworthy group is the real target for all the new plant-based items on menus, not vegetarians or vegans, whose ranks have remained relatively steady over the last 20 years.

Strictly speaking, flexitarians want a diet of mostly plant-based items with meat in moderation. More broadly, this term has been applied to the growing number of consumers looking to be more mindful and healthier with the mix of foods they are consuming.

Word of warning – while a recent survey showed that 52% of US consumers are trying to include more plant-based foods into their lives, only one-third identified as flexitarians – so don’t use that identification on menus just yet. Stick to the popular “plant-based” call outs for now.

Source: Datassential Keynote: Plant-Based Eating, March 2018

There is an exciting world of ingredients for chefs to consider when developing new plant-based dishes that consumers will crave. Look to global inspiration like tofu and tempeh from Asia or Middle Eastern breakout stars like falafel and hummus. Explore recipes with ancient grains like quinoa and kamut, or integrate chia and flax seeds which are surging on menus.

Meat analog curiosity aside, the real key to getting consumers to try new items is making them sound delicious! Flexitarians, and even vegan and vegetarian patrons don’t want to feel like they are eating a plate of weeds. By assembling complex and layered flavors, restaurants can create craveable and satisfying meals that drive repeat purchases.

Would You Like Some Vegetables with Your Dessert?

One of the sweeter plant-based food trends identified at this year’s National Restaurant Show is dessert applications. Products like chocolate hummus, hummus shakes, dairy-free ice creams and even pies, cakes and cookies are increasingly being found in the market.

Sweet goods present an opportunity to not only incorporate more diverse plant-based options on the menu, but to provide consumers a more permissible or healthy indulgence option that can drive dessert sales and build check averages.

Bringing More Plants to Your Menu

Millennials are leading the demand for more plant-based menu items. They were raised during the #meatlessmonday era in schools, are more concerned for the environment, mindful eating and animal welfare than previous generations. Menus need to adapt to attract the younger generations of restaurant patrons.

If you still want some meat analogs, options exist for taco meat, pizza toppings, chorizo alternatives and many more.

Whatever your restaurant concept, there are endless ways to bring more plant-based meals, sides and snacks to your menu. Just remember, taste is still king, so make it delicious.

Catherine Porter is a marketing consultant specializing in the food industry. Known for her comprehensive understanding of foodservice trends, consumer insights and industry dynamics with the ability and vision to synthesize the information into new products and solutions for operators and manufacturers. You can find Catherine on Twitter at @cpmktservices or on LinkedIn.

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