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Alternatives are Hot at Restaurants

Diners will see more alternatives in restaurants this year, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) What’s Hot Culinary Forecast.

Alternatives such as eco-friendly packaging, plant-based proteins, revamped cocktail classics, specialty burger blends, and unique beef and pork cuts all made the list of top 10 trends.

“These trends reflect Americans’ desires to combine the tried and true with the new and different,” said Hudson Riehle, SVP of research for the NRA. “Consumers want something different, but want to keep what satisfies them at the same time, and more than 1 million restaurants around the country are ready to meet those wants and needs.”

Plant-based protein is top of mind for chefs this year. In 2019, major quickservice restaurant companies added plant-based protein or a meat alternative to the menu, and this is continuing into 2020.

For example, Panera Bread plans on adding more grains and plant-based food to its menu, reported CNBC (Jan. 9). “In the coming years, we want to have more grain options for our consumers, more plant-based options for our consumers and more high-quality lean-cut meats,” said CEO Niren Chaudhary.

The chain is trying to increase its plant-based options from 25% of its menu to 50%. In 2021, consumers can expect new plant-based products in every category.

Additionally, Starbucks is adding oat milk to its plant-based milks lineup with the arrival of the Oatmilk Honey Latte in select Midwestern stores. The company is also adding the Almondmilk Honey Flat White and Coconutmilk Latte.

Meanwhile, eco-friendly packaging ranked on top of the NRA’s trends list. More than half of consumers are likely to make a restaurant choice based on its eco-friendly practices, such as water conservation and recycling. However, interest in eco-friendly packaging may not be driven entirely by consumer demand as businesses are increasingly being guided by local legislation and regulations governing what materials can and cannot be used.

Another noteworthy find was respondents ranking mushrooms as the hottest produce item, followed by caulilini (aka baby cauliflower), and lesser-known rabes such as turnips and collards. Mushrooms also found their way into the protein category with specialty burger blends, such as mushroom-beef, ranking just below plant-based protein.

Interestingly, while CBD-infused foods led the 2019 survey, they dropped out of the top 10 this year. Still, CBD snacks and sweets appeared in the dessert category and CBD-infused foods and beverages are in the top five culinary innovations.

What else isn’t hot? Whey protein, seaweed, and insect ingredients all fell to the bottom of this year’s list.