Plant-forward foods grabbing more menu real estate

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The days of vegetables, whole grains and other plant-forward dishes being relegated to supporting roles are over. Meatless Mondays, a staple of many college dining programs, are yesterday’s news. Today’s foodservice patrons, increasingly mindful of the connection between diet and health, are shifting away from animal proteins and toward choices that lean heavily on produce, plant-based proteins and other alternatives to traditional center-of-the-plate menu choices.

It might not be a daily habit, but about a third (32%) of consumers say they enjoy a vegetarian or vegan meal at least once a week, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. Restaurants and retailers are listening and responding.

According to Ignite menu data, “plant-based” menu mentions have jumped nearly threefold in the past year. During the same time frame, sales of imitation beef, pork, chicken and seafood have been sizzling, with restaurants from upscale independents to Burger King and White Castle working Impossible Foods, Gardein, Beyond Meat and other recently developed products into their menus. And Technomic predicts introductions of plant-based eggs, gelatin, cheeses, milks, sauces and condiments will continue to proliferate in the next few years.

But faux meats are just one menu category that has surged because of demand for plant-based foods. Other ways plant-forward foods are taking over:

  • In entrees: Produce such as cauliflower, mushrooms, breadfruit, winter squash and eggplant are shining in truly plant-forward entrees, standing in for steak, burgers, barbecue, roasts and other historically meat-based entrees.
  • In customizable bowl meals: Bowls built around healthy grains such as quinoa, farro and brown rice; nutrition-dense greens such as kale; and chia or hemp seeds have been soaring in popularity. Quinoa (up 14% on menus over the past five years) and farro (up 7%) benefit from not only their healthy profile but also their high protein content, according to Technomic’s Ignite menu data.
  • As superfood sides and more: Superfoods continue to attract interest by foodservice guests, with items such as Brussels sprouts, avocado and whole grains making inroads on menus.
  • In the form of a legume boom: The humble lentil is having a moment. According to Ignite menu data, curry dishes featuring lentils are up 5.4% on menus year over year, and about 63% of college and university foodservice programs feature lentils.

With the help of partners like Simplot, it’s easier than ever for operators to respond to the growing appetite for plant-based menu options—and eliminate concerns about seasonality, additional prep labor or quality. A broad portfolio of ingredients and products facilitates plant-forward menu development without additional hassles or waste.

Simplot Good Grains Premium Blends, for example, combine whole grains and vibrant vegetables for an easy, complex dish. They can be served hot, or they can be chilled after cooking for grab-and-go applications.

Simplot Simple Goodness Premium Vegetables offer a premium-quality product with a hand-cut appearance, eye-catching color and zero waste. Similarly, all-natural Simplot Harvest Fresh Avocados are perfectly ripe, always ready and offer consistent pricing, quality and availability across seasons.
As plant-forward foods increase their reach on menus, operators have ample opportunity to add them to myriad dishes, from appetizers to sides and entrees.

This post is sponsored by Simplot