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Analysts: Restaurant Customers Seeking Plant-Based Innovation

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Analysts: Restaurant Customers Seeking Plant-Based Innovation

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There’s no denying plant-based food has had a big year. However, the pandemic’s full impact on plant-based momentum in restaurants remains unclear.

While the gears of product development are starting to turn again, some major brands have moved away from plant-based products—such as Dunkin’ cutting a Beyond Meat sandwich from the menu— and, overall, such offerings represent only about 3% of the menu mix, reported Forbes (July 16).

IS THE RESTAURANT SECTOR ASKING FOR MORE PLANT-BASED PRODUCTS?

Long John Silver’s recently revealed it’s partnering with Good Catch to launch plant-based seafood at select locations, while Little Caesars recently added a plant-based pepperoni pizza to the menu.

This begs the question: Has the restaurant industry reached a point of plant-based saturation? The Food Institute spoke to two industry experts to get their opinions.

“Right now, it may not be so much that the restaurant sector is asking for more plant-based products, but it is finding a balance between offering what customers are interested in and keeping an eye on profitability,” said Jennifer Bartashus, Senior Analyst, Retail Staples & Packaged Food, at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Bartashus also noted one other trend that shouldn’t be discounted is the inclusion of more produce-based options, like cauliflower steaks, grain and roasted vegetable bowls, for example.

Meanwhile, Marie Molde, Account Manager, Registered Dietitian at Datassential, says that consumers are looking for plant-based innovation and looking to increase their consumption of whole plant-based foods. “This widespread bias towards increasing whole plant-based foods in our diets represents significant permission for chefs to prioritize plant-based innovation,” she said.

WILL NEW INTRODUCTIONS DRIVE GROWTH IN FOODSERVICE?

Plant-based beef alternatives were the first to take foodservice by storm. Now, alternatives to other meat products are on the rise.

Plant-based bacon is gaining undeniable traction, with the category seeing sales rise 25% through April 18, nearly doubling the growth rate of conventional bacon, according to Spins data, reported Bloomberg (July 19).

Additionally, following the launch of Beyond Meat’s plant-based chicken tenders at some U.S. restaurants, Impossible Foods plans to release a meat-free chicken nugget product in fall 2021, reported CNBC (July 16).

Chicken is America’s most-consumed food, Molde noted, saying “chicken alternatives have the potential to really upend the industry.”

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“It is likely that introductions of plant-based chicken tenders and nuggets will drive similar trial that we saw with plant-based burgers and sausage patties from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat with QSR partners,” said Bartashus. “The bigger challenge for alternative chicken may be attracting long-term converts.”

When it comes to bacon, Molde noted that the product could have huge potential to drive plant-based innovation in foodservice, with taste being a key factor. Bartashus believes that, since bacon tends to be a topper rather than a central protein, it could be a good trial at restaurants, but alternative bacon alone is not likely to be a primary sales driver.

WILL MORE INNOVATION EQUAL MORE ADOPTION?

Currently, plant-based items represent just 2-to-3% of menu offerings. More innovation in the industry could up that number.

“At the end of the day, restaurants respond to what consumers want and are interested in. Items that sell stay on menus. Innovation of new plant-based products, improving taste and better nutritional profiles will all help these items gain more traction over time,” said Bartashus.

Molde agrees that more innovation is necessary but added that more innovation is also needed in whole-food plant-based items, such as fruits and vegetables. “This really is an innovation challenge. To drive plant-based forward we need to see more innovation across all segments of the restaurant industry,” she said.

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