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November is World Vegan Month, the perfect opportunity for your restaurant to experiment with alternative menu specials. In part 1 of the Better Food, Better Profits series we explore one of the hottest trends in the foodservice industry for 2021-2022 – plant based food.

The plant based consumer trend is skyrocketing. In the last two years, the number of plant based items on US restaurant menus has increased by 1,320%. In The Bay Area alone, Google searches for ‘vegan food nearby’ jumped by 5,000% in just under 5 years.

What is plant based, why do consumers suddenly care so much and how can restaurants capitalize on this growing sector –  we got you covered with everything you need to know about one of the hottest food trends of 2021-2022.  

What Is Plant Based Food?

The ‘plant based’ movement is part of a general trend towards conscious consumerism. It stands for substituting animal products, namely protein, eggs and dairy, with plant-derived ones. 

Some substitutes for dairy milk, yoghurt and cheeses have already been mainstream for years. These include things like no-harm pizzas and non-dairy drinks based on soy, almond, oat or coconut

Late arrivals on the scene but in very high demand are alternative meats. Over 9% of all US restaurants and 13% of all food chains are already serving meat alternatives. Substitutes made from soy, chickpeas or peas are the most popular, while interest in seitan (wheat) and white beans is rising consistently.

Do you bake your own pastries or pies? Plant based egg sales grew 706% in the last 2 years. 

The last alternative that still has a way to go is seafood. While there are many alt-seafood products on the market, it is only now beginning to get noticed by consumers. Consider getting ahead of this trend with mind blowing plant based shrimp and scallop options.

Is There a Market for Plant Based Alternatives?

There is definitely a growing demand for plant based alternatives across the foodservice industry. According to a recent study conducted by OnePoll and So Delicious Dairy Free, 1/3 of Americans are flexitarian while 52% of consumers say they are trying to eat more meatless meals on a regular basis.

What was once reserved for full-on vegans is now being explored by die-hard carnivores. Retail supermarket chains like Wholefoods recognized the craving for plant based options long ago and rushed to create private-label plant brands. 

Now, every dairy and meat aisle from Target to Trader Joe’s caters to vegetarians, flexitarians and conscious carnivores alike. 

Wait, flexi who? Like with every new trend, plant based also comes with its own jargon. Here are the key 3 target markets you should get familiar with: 

  • Flexitarian. A person who sticks to a predominantly veggie diet but who sometimes eats meat or fish. 
  • Climatarian. Someone who does their best to eat foods that don’t harm the environment.
  • Pescatarians. A consumer that eats fish but not meat.

Why Consumers Care So Much

The primary reason why diners choose plant based alternatives is because they believe it is healthier. Especially since Covid-19, people seem to care more about what they are putting in their bodies. Other considerations like environmental impact, animal rights and religion are secondary for most people. 

High Profit Potential for Plant Based Menu Items

Customers are willing to pay a premium for healthy plant based food, sometimes as much as 40% more.

Offering something simple like soy or almond milk alternatives will cost customers an extra $1-1.5 plus tax. That’s 20-25% of the drink right there. Now extrapolate to full dishes. Creating a 3-taco plate for $7 using meatless meat from Cheetah and selling it at $19 is a huge profit. 

Besides higher profit menu items, restaurants are reducing food-costs from 30% to 15% by substituting meat for plant protein in entrees.

Not Offering Plant Based Options? Better for Your Competitors

In 2019 the number of vegans in America shot up by 600% and San Francisco was named the most vegan friendly city in the US. If your restaurant is not offering a plant based option or two – it is leaving money on the table. 

Tastewise calculated that restaurants in the US miss out on $7 million every week just because they didn’t spend the time to upload their alternative meat options to their 3rd-party delivery app menu. That’s $200 million a year lost to competitors who do advertise their meat alternatives. 

4 Steps to Get Started With Plant Based Menu Options

Getting started with plant based menu alternatives doesn’t have to involve a complete menu overhaul. Start small to test demand and gradually grow your plant based menu items according to diners’ preferences. 

  1. Start with 1 plant based menu option. Add one meatless dish to your specials menu and see how your customers react. A good place to start is a vegetarian winter soup or meatless taco. If demand and reactions are positive, you can gradually explore more options. Be mindful of taste and texture. Diners who choose alt-meat say that these are as important to them as health.
  2. Keep it simple. Choose something that your wholesale supplier can support and your back-of-house staff can easily integrate. Cheetah has dozens plant based alternatives in our catalog, in addition to our usual selection. Our collaboration with Impossible Foods gives restaurants access to the leading brand on the market.
  3. Marketing. Communicate your new plant based dish to customers through your website and social accounts. Let diners know that your restaurant is here to look out for their health and palate. Prepare your staff with a one liner, like “I love that dish. It is filling and juicy. I bring it home for my family when I can”. 
  4. Menu placement. Good Food Institute recommends these good rule of thumbs:
    • Showcase great flavor using terms like ‘crispy, hot, mouthwatering’
    • Markup only by 5-10% or offer alternatives as a premium upgrade
    • Don’t create a ‘Vegan’ section on your menu, just place it like a normal dish
    • Start with common dishes that people are familiar with, like spaghetti and meatballs 
    • Be positive. Instead of writing ‘meatless’ write ‘plant powered’.
    • Don’t forget to upload your meatless dish to your 3rd-party delivery app.

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