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Consumer interest in plant-based foods continues to grow

More plant-forward choices are appearing on menus in response to demand.
Photograph courtesy of Burgerville

Plant-based burgers and sausage patties are now permanent menu items at major fast-food and breakfast chains. And while those products may be the gateway into plant-forward eating for many consumers, diners are also seeking more grains, vegetables, nondairy milks and other plant foods.

Several recent studies reinforce this trend. According to Technomic’s 2020 Generational Consumer Trend Report, 41% of millennials enjoy trying new plant-based foods and beverages at restaurants. 

While pure vegetarians and vegans still represent a relatively small percentage of consumers, about 22% consider themselves flexitarians, as reported by the Culinary Institute of America during its virtual Menus of Change conference last month. Flexitarian eating embraces a plant-forward approach with a diet focused on fewer animal products and more fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.

Consumers cite three main reasons for putting more plants on the plate, finds a survey from the United Soybean Board:

• Improving overall health and wellness

• Improving the quality of protein in the diet

• Helping to protect the environment/promote sustainability

Restaurants are helping consumers meet these goals with more inventive preparations of vegetables, more globally-inspired plant-forward dishes and more choice overall. Technomic’s Menu Monitor noted a significant year-over-year increase in menu mentions of plant-based eggs (up 211%), plant-based shrimp (60%) and cauliflower rice (57%) in the second quarter of 2020. Other ingredients are also tracking upward at a smaller rate.

Chipotle Cauliflower Rice
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Take a look at five noteworthy plant-forward menu introductions at chains:

• Chipotle Mexican Grill: Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice as an option in burritos, bowls, etc.

• Burgerville: Asparagus Fries, hand-battered and fried, as an alternative to french fries

• Zoes Kitchen: FLT, a sandwich layered with a falafel patty, hummus, tomatoes, spring mix and lemon vinaigrette on multi-grain bread

• Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse: Crispy Chickpea & Eggplant Burger

• Hummus & Pita Co.: Plant-based Vegan Shawarma and Vegan Moroccan Meatballs

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