In 1980, Dr. Thomas Colin Campbell claimed responsibility for coining the term plant-based, creating the phrase to help present his research on diet to skeptical colleagues at the National Institutes of Health that year. The term reached new levels of popularity after the release of the 2016 edition of “The China Study,” Dr. Campbell’s book detailing the link between plant-based eating and the reduction of certain cancers and chronic diseases.
Fast forward to present day and you’ll get about 2.8 billion results in 51 seconds when you type the search term: “what is plant-based?” into Google. And according to projections by Bloomberg Intelligence, the plant-based foods market could hit $162 billion in the next decade. Clearly, the plant-based lifestyle has caught on – BIG time! For this column, I reached out to three individuals who are deeply entrenched in the current plant-based food industry to better understand the current trends and the key factors driving them.
Chef Ivan Castro, a Meatless Monday culinary ambassador, owns the popular La Bartola, a Toronto-based restaurant, rooted in authentic Mexican flavors and traditions. Chef Ivan shared his observation about the trend in surprising flavors and textures, “Most of our guests are non-plant-based; they are excited and open to trying new things. For instance, we use hibiscus flowers to make one of our taco fillings and for other savoury dishes. We offer and deliver unexpected flavors and textures that cause excitement and curiosity.”
Chef Castro credits storytelling and experience for this trend, “I’ve seen that new things get our guests excited and happy to try. Storytelling is essential. When we share how we source our ingredients, people give more value to the food on their plates. We are not selling food; we are selling a whole experience.”
For the second trend forecaster, I turned to Ben Davis, VP of Plant Based World Expo North America. He sees three primary trends: nutrition, customizability, creativity.
“Why nutrition? Because diners in 2022 want to understand what they are putting in their bodies and to truly feel good after eating a meal. This means leaning towards cleaner-label ingredients and locally grown whole foods whenever possible and advertising it to your clientele.
Customizability is another trend, thanks to advances in technology allowing nearly anyone to visualize and understand their unique biological makeup. This level of detail means individuals can identify the specific dietary and lifestyle guidelines their body needs to function and thrive. Restaurants that can comfortably and patiently work with their customers to create dishes that meet their needs will have a great chance of finding loyal, returning customers.”
Creativity is also trending when it comes to plant-based cooking. “A lot of what we are discussing has never been done before from a culinary perspective and requires out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to experiment. I believe restaurants that can invent new, plant-powered culinary masterpieces will lead the foodservice industry of the future.”
Asked how restaurants and foodservice can leverage these trends to appeal to their client, Davis said, “I believe the lines between vegan/non vegan/etc. are becoming more and more blurred. These trends affect everyone, whether it’s I as a ‘vegan’ looking for more nutrient dense, customizable and creative plant-based dishes when I go out to eat, or someone who eats meat on occasion. We are all looking for something that suits our unique needs, excites our eyes, nose and taste buds, and in the end makes us feel better than we felt when we walked through the door hungry in the first place. Perhaps the real question for restaurants then is less about how do we leverage trends to appeal to people and more about how do we better understand our unique customer base and design menus to leave them feeling happy and healthy.”
Brian Kateman, founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, coined the term “reducetarian” to describe a person who is deliberately reducing his or her consumption of meat. Kateman predicts that we will see more plant-based meat options on restaurant and foodservice menus, not just leading ones like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Quorn, but new players in the space with their own competitive advantage. “For example, Nowadays is a new plant-based chicken company with fewer ingredients than most in this category, which appeals to those seeking a cleaner label.
Health continues to be the main factor driving plant-based meat consumption, followed by environmental concerns. These two will continue to drive these trends. That said, whether plant-based meat will reach more than 1% of the meat market remains to be seen,” Kateman remarked.
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