2019 was the year of food trends in the restaurant industry. While trends like paleo and keto continued to gain traction, other emerging trends included a focus on sustainable and socially conscious practices. Of that, one of the top trends to materialize in 2019 was a focus on vegan, or rather, the more inclusive plant-based menus.
While customers are welcoming the shift to a vegan or plant-based diets, chefs are focusing more on vegetable-based menus to answer the growing demands of their customers. According to a Nielsen survey, 39% of consumers in the U.S. say they aim to include more plant-based foods into their diet. And in a recent survey by Harris Poll, 37% of the 2,000 people polled said that they sometimes eat vegetarian (including vegan) dishes when eating out. Millennials are the biggest drivers of this trend, with a quarter of 25 to 34-year-olds classifying themselves as vegan or vegetarian and one third of all Americans consider themselves to be flexitarian. By all accounts, it looks like plant-based menus are more than a buzzword. They are here to stay.
As the word diet as almost become a “dirty word”, more and more people are seeking wellness and lifestyle changes instead of a traditional diet. Customers are switching to a plant-based diet not because of animal welfare issues (as is seen with vegan diets), but more for environmental and health reasons. A plant-based reduces water and land use, lowers pollution, slows deforestation and reduces destruction of topsoil, among other benefits. And people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease than their meat-eating peers.
While a plant-based diet consists of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, and with few or no animal products, it is not necessarily vegetarian. This distinction is what makes plant-based menus more inclusive to customers and can open the door to more sales and a wider customer base.
Restaurants are capitalizing on this movement and working to embrace the growing demand. While the term vegan used to be polarizing to diners and restaurateurs due to high food costs, brand identity, customer perception, the rise of plant-based diets has had the opposite effect. Eighty-six percent of mainstream restaurants that added plant-based or vegan dishes to their menu saw a spike in sales and traffic. They also saw it as a way to grow their customer base and appeal to broader market that includes vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and other health and environmentally conscious diners.
Other benefits included an increase in group bookings as these restaurants were seen as more inclusive to all diners. As more restaurants incorporate a vegan-friendly option, it will likely hurt your business if you don’t.
But incorporating a plant-based menu may drive some concerns about staying true to brand identity. However, as the market continues to grow, so does demand. With so many ways to incorporate plant based into your menu, it is possible grow to meet the new demands while staying true to brand identity. Instead of overhauling the menu, replace select dishes with plant-based options. Things like mushroom-based “steaks”, Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat sausages, tofu and legumes add the plant-based variety to menus and can replicate more traditional dishes. The key with plant-based menus is high quality ingredients, flavor and options that will allow you to expand your customer base and boost sales.