Flexitarian options go mainstream

It’s no secret consumers are looking for healthier menu options that taste good. But healthy means different things to different people, and many consumers—both meat lovers and vegetarians alike—are choosing plant-based proteins as they begin to focus on naturally better-for-you foods.

veggie burger foodservice menu idea

For operators, this shift in eating habits represents a huge opportunity, and catering to consumer needs and desires for vegetarian choices is a way to boost business and offer menu options for a variety of patrons.

The flexitarian consumer

According to Technomic’s 2015 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, nearly 80% percent of consumers eat vegetarian meals at least once per week—and this is higher among both younger consumers and women. Additionally, 36 percent of consumers are more likely to visit an operation that serves vegetarian options, and 50 percent would like foodservice establishments to offer a greater variety of these items.

And although flexitarians—diners who eat animal proteins but often reach for vegetarian options—have different reasons for going veggie, it’s the healthier menus, according to Technomic.

Mentions of veggie proteins are also growing on restaurant menus, showing that consumers are continuing to seek them out across segments. According to Datassential Menu Trends, veggie protein burgers are second only to beef, and they’re menued at nearly 40 percent of fast-casual restaurants. Operators are also able to charge a premium for veggie protein compared to beef. On average, plant-based proteins command a 5.4 percent higher dollar ring, with black-bean burgers as the fastest-growing alternative.

How to go veggie

With the demand for vegetarian options becoming mainstream, operators are focusing on adding these items across menu parts. Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services highlights meatless meal options on menus as part of its “Be a Flexitarian” program.

At Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., this flexitarian initiative takes steps toward providing healthy meals to its customers—while building sustainable communities—by offering meat-free meals for all customers. Popular favorites include Eggs Benedict with MorningStar Farms® Sausage and Zucchini Potato Cakes and Spicy Black Bean & Goat Cheese Agnolotti, made with MorningStar Farms® Spicy Black Bean Burgers.

Similarly, Sobelman’s Pub and Grill in Milwaukee, known for big juicy burgers and over-the-top bloody marys, allows customers to substitute a veggie patty on any burger—and even garnishes one of their famous bloody marys with a MorningStar Farms® veggie slider.

Menuing veggie proteins in initiatives such as these also helps to drive traffic and sales by broadening appeal for consumers across segments. Seventy-four percent of FoodService Director’s Chefs’ Council said they expect plant-based dishes to continue to grow on menus in 2016, with operators in the healthcare segment focusing on dishes such as grain-based salads and local and seasonal produce.

Additionally, operators shouldn’t feel constrained to menu vegetarian options only at lunch or dinner—62 percent of consumers say they choose vegetarian items during breakfast at least once per month, and 63 percent say the same for snacks, according to Technomic. Menuing options that work across eating occasions, such as a vegetarian breakfast burrito or a flatbread pizza topped with veggies, can help to drive sales all day long.

With 26% of consumers eating more vegetarian cuisine over the last two years, now is the time to focus on flavorful veggie proteins. Satisfy guests with the leading veggie cuisine brands—MorningStar Farms® and Gardenburger®. They’re perfect for all-day flexitarian dishes from breakfasts to burgers to salads and more! And for more inspiration for your menu, visit Kellogg’s here.

This post is sponsored by W.K. Kelloggs Co.