Consumer interest in plant-based foods is at an all-time high and only shows signs of accelerating. This interest is not solely from vegan consumers, but also from a growing class of flexitarians looking to integrate more plant-based food into their diets, without fully committing to major lifestyle changes.
In line with this, we have seen an explosion of plant-based products becoming available at the retail level and, while these were initially confined to the natural/specialty section of stores, they have now begun to take hold in the mainstream aisles as well.
While the broad introduction of plant-based options in foodservice establishments has been slower, foodservice provides a unique opportunity to introduce new and innovative products to consumers in what can potentially be a much more favorable context, with the benefit of carefully executed recipes and professional presentation.
With increased demand from the flexitarian consumer, it will become imperative for the success of many foodservice establishments to incorporate products that cater to this market, whether with traditional recipes made vegan, or completely new plant-based menu items. Vegan interpretations of traditional recipes will need to carefully replicate the taste, texture, and experience of their animal-based counterparts.
This is a critical inflection point for the widespread acceptance of plant-based options and alternatives and will be the litmus test by which the more plant-based-curious consumers embrace these products as credible alternatives. The cutting edge of these innovations can already be found in high-end dining (the wizardry of Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is a must-try if you have the opportunity) and these are beginning to filter into quick-service restaurants (QSR) menus.
A majority of the short-term opportunities will be in the widespread pursuit of flexitarians through menu additions at traditional high-traffic QSRs (e.g. McDonald’s McPlant, A&W’s Beyond Meat burger, Mucho Burrito’s vegan burrito) as well as the emergence of new chains that exclusively offer vegan menus while still closely replicating the traditional QSR operations (e.g. Plant Power Fast Food, Veggie Grill, Copper Branch).
The second stage of innovation in the foodservice industry will be the introduction of new and unique products that offer a differentiated consumer experience. As consumers increasingly embrace plant-based options, innovations that provide a delicious experience unto themselves (as opposed to replicating a historic animal-based alternative) will evolve to a broader panoply of plant-based offerings that are defined by their unique taste, nutritional profiles, or even agricultural origins, and not to mention the advent of cultivated meat on the horizon.
We are on the cusp of another boom for the plant-based industry where foodservice channels have the opportunity to pave the way for, and benefit from, the wider adoption of plant-based products, ultimately leading to a greener, more sustainable world.
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