6 new ways to menu plant-based protein
When it comes to protein options, consumers are expanding their palates to include a wide range of veggie versions—and not just at home. The popularity of plant-based proteins eaten away-from-home grew 6.4% in the 12 months ending August 2017, according to NPD Supply Track, and guests today want the same variety and culinary excitement that’s offered in animal-based protein dishes.
Even consumers who aren’t willing to give up their steak, chicken and fish options entirely are often more willing to do so when away from home. At a foodservice location, diners don’t have to try to figure out how to prepare an unfamiliar plant-based protein in an appealing manner, so they can first try the meal knowing that it’s cooked correctly. Additionally, trying these plant-based dishes when dining out allows consumers to try a new plant-based protein without having to purchase an entire package and commit to eating all of it.
For chefs not accustomed to preparing inventive menus featuring plant-based protein, catering to these customers can be a challenge. However, it’s not impossible—here’s how.
Menu a variety of options
Customers are looking for variety and choices across a menu. Aim for at least three to four options, such as one tofu or soy entree, one or two bean-based entrees and at least one whole-grain option. Given the number of available plant-based proteins, this menu can be updated regularly—feature chickpeas as a bean entree one month, and then switch to black beans. Do the same with the other soy and whole-grain dishes as well.
Jazz up sandwiches and burgers
Plant based proteins can be the star of any sandwich. Consider inventive toppings and flavors consumers expect from traditional proteins —after all, one top burger trend for 2017 was unique flavor combinations. If the menu features a Black & Bleu burger made with beef, make the flip with a veggie patty version. Add appealing and hearty plant-based ingredients to vegetarian sandwiches, such as avocados or grilled mushrooms.
Go outside the bun
Sandwiches and burgers are a great way to start featuring plant-based protein, but don’t limit offerings to just that. Consider other parts of the menu, such as wraps, bowls and salads. Plant-based protein options can span dayparts, with options for breakfast through dinner. Even breakfast items have ample opportunity to feature plant-based protein, such as a tofu-scramble breakfast wrap with peppers and mushrooms.
Consider appropriate pricing
Don’t limit the margins available on plant-based protein. Price the variety of vegetarian options similarly to meat options for optimal profit. According to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report, there’s an unmet demand for veggie burgers and other meatless items, so putting them on the menu can offer great potential to operators.
Play with flavor profiles
As with other options, operators need to make sure plant-based protein dishes include exciting, new flavors that consumers crave. Consider taking inspiration from around the globe: Chickpeas and lentils are stunning in Mediterranean flavor profiles, while tofu stars in Asian dishes. Black beans naturally pair with other Southwestern ingredients, but don’t be afraid to try something new with a combination of herbs, spices and flavor-rich ingredients.
“The plant-based protein category has evolved from simply meatless offerings to desirable elevated cuisine,” says David Grotto, MS, RDN, Nutrition Manager for Kellogg’s. “Today’s flexitarian consumer expects their food to not only be designed for a better you and a better world, but they also demand that flavor and excitement be front and center in all of their dining experiences.”
Share the brand with guests
Consumers often feel more comfortable with an unfamiliar ingredient when it comes from a brand they know. Don’t shy away from sharing which brand-name protein substitutes the kitchen uses—in fact, one-third of consumers specifically state that they want to know, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report.
Appealing to diners with meatless options is easier than ever, given the variety of vegetarian options available today. Capture away-from-home eaters with unique and flavorful options that start with quality ingredients and great flavor.