Article by Ben Davis, Plant Based World
It’s no secret that plant-based food has gained traction in the foodservice and retail industries in recent years. In fact, 9.7 million Americans now follow a plant based diet. Plant-based meat, dairy, and other alternatives to animal products are popping up on menus and grocery store shelves everywhere. Whether it’s Burger King or your favorite local spot, restaurants and retail brands are catering to consumers’ desire to move towards a more plant-centric diet.
The global pandemic has changed the way we interact with food. Take out meals from restaurants as well as grocery store sales have increased as more people choose to eat in their homes. From a personal health standpoint, people are incorporating more plant based foods into their diets as it is becoming increasingly critical to have a strong immune system. This has resulted in the surge of interest and subsequent consumption of plant-based meals and retail products.
With the plant-based market growing quickly and the competition for consumers’ food dollar higher than ever, how can the food service industry best capitalize on these trends? Looking at the retail market is a useful way for the food service industry to get ahead of the game. Retail products are typically ahead of restaurants with trends because of the smaller learning curve. For example, with retail products, consumers purchase a product and cook it at home shortly after, whereas in food service chefs have an ingrained culinary mentality and may be less willing to use new ingredients immediately.
An establishment’s ability to successfully incorporate plant-based alternatives into their offerings depends on the food service segment and the target customer. Plant-based meat alternatives like hamburgers are great for fast food restaurants, for example, because it’s an easy one-to-one switch. Upscale restaurants may not have burgers on their menu, and will achieve a better customer response by focusing on using other unique plant ingredients.
For restauranteurs and food service operators, utilizing the marketing and branding of the products is crucial. Use the brand’s name in the title of your menu item. For example, Burger King offers the Impossible™ WhopperⓇ combining the name of their iconic sandwich with the plant-based meat brand, Impossible Foods™. These brands have already done the marketing for their products, so as a restauranteur, it’s important to utilize their name to build hype around your own product offerings without having to do much extra work. Simply putting the brand name on your menu and making customers aware will be effective.
Plant-based eating has never been a fad, but more of an underground movement that has been gaining a broader audience since the 1970s with brands like Tofurky. Modern brands like Impossible Foods™ and Beyond Meat™ took the first steps to offer these products to meat eaters and include them in their target market. Many people are concerned about their personal health and the potential health risks of consuming animal products, sparking trends such as “Meatless Monday”. For this reason, meat eaters are a target market for these brands because they’re looking for plant-based products that look, taste, and cook the same as their usual meat option.
Many companies are testing the waters by introducing one plant-based product into their product offerings. However, this doesn’t service the full spectrum of the plant based community. The novelty of the plant based burger will eventually lose its luster, and restaurant companies can fill this gap in the market by offering plant based condiments, buns, eggs, and cheese products.
Plant Based World helps brands understand the different avenues for their products. Retail is the obvious go-to option for selling products, but brands should consider catering to the food service industry because there’s less competition in this space versus on retail shelves. Take the brand Good Catch, for example; founded by chefs, they’re tackling the barrier chefs face when trying to incorporate plant-based ingredients by providing one-to-one swaps for seafood products. This way chefs don’t have to spend time learning how to use a new ingredient. By offering plant-based alternatives that are comparable in price, have the same flavor profile, and cook the same, Good Catch is providing a more accessible way for chefs to experiment with trends their customers are interested in.
One thing is clear: consumers’ taste buds and preferences are evolving, and the plant-based food market is evolving with them.
Ben Davis programs the world’s first and only fully plant-based trade expo and accompanying news site and newsletter. He developed the original concept of Plant Based World Conference and Expo for trade show management company JD Events, inspired by his own personal plant-based journey. The event launched successfully in 2019 in the U.S. at the Javits Convention Center in New York City and is currently in the launch phase of a European show to debut in London in 2021. Ben’s mission is to make delicious, natural foods accessible to everyone. He believes that diet and lifestyle are the keys to a balanced and prosperous future for all beings on Earth. Outside of his work in food, Ben is a music producer and performer under the stage name Vibe Street. His greatest joy is making people smile, dance and come alive to the magic of the present moment. Ben is determined to spend his life building community and celebrating this mysterious human experience to the fullest.