3 ways to elevate produce

produce center of plate

From Catallia Foodservice.

With the increasing popularity of nonmeat options across segments, more operators are turning to vegetable-based proteins and veggie-centric options, especially as consumer demand for these items grows. According to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, roughly three-quarters (74%) of consumers who often eat vegetarian or vegan items at least somewhat agree that they’d like more plant-based protein substitutes for poultry, meat and seafood items.

The shift toward using more vegetable-based proteins is apparent in many applications, both commercially and noncommercially. If you’re interested in elevating your vegetarian, vegan, or simply veggie-based menu items, these ideas are perfect for doing just that.

Incorporate ethnic flavors

According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University Consumer Trend Report, 43% of consumers say that they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages. As luck might have it, many ethnic and global flavors are naturally vegetable-based. Foods such as falafel or chile rellenos are both great options that incorporate global flavors in veggie-based dishes.

Serve customizable bowls

According to the Technomic study, 65% of consumers say that build-your-own stations, where they can choose the ingredients themselves, or made-to-order stations, where they choose the ingredients and a cook prepares it, are appealing or extremely appealing. In other words, the option to customize meals continues to be a big draw for diners. These types of dishes often include “bowl” meals, such as stir-fry or burrito bowls, both of which can easily become vegetable-based.

Offering these customizable options can go hand in hand with incorporating ethnic flavors as well. Globally inspired sauces such as coconut curry, chimichurri or tzatziki can elevate these veggie dishes, offering diners delicious flavor in a healthy vegetarian (or vegan) package.

Use ingredients ingeniously

Operators should also focus on utilizing vegetables in creative ways, such as making pesto from kale instead of the standard basil, or serving cauliflower steaks. Portobello mushrooms have long been used as substitutes for traditional burger patties, but now, some operators are choosing to blend these mushrooms with quinoa for a more substantial bite.

Another ingredient that’s seeing a rise in popularity is jackfruit. It’s great as a substitute for foods such as pulled chicken or pulled pork. Even Stevens, a fast-casual sandwich chain with locations in Utah, features jackfruit in a torta, melding the ideas of using global flavors and unique ingredients.

“We wanted to bring a vegan dish to the table that was really embraced by vegans,” says Michael McHenry, president of Even Stevens. “Jackfruit itself is so well-rounded, it’s so high and rich in nutrients. It’s something that’s truly present. There’s an abundant amount of it, it’s not going anywhere.”

As for whether customers have responded well to such an unknown food, McHenry said that the jackfruit torta has been “selling beautifully.”

If there’s one thing to keep in mind when adding vegetable-based dishes to your menu, it’s this: Don’t shy away from unfamiliar flavors and new ingredients. Diners seeking vegetarian options are interested in more than just a garden salad bar, and it’s essential to offer tasty, nutritious, and filling options.

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