As a top trend for 2018, plant-forward cuisine is continuing to influence operators across segments. With approximately a third (31%) of younger consumers ages 18-34 saying they eat vegetarian options or meat substitutes at least occasionally and 16% saying they eat vegan occasionally, it’s not surprising that operators are working hard to cater to these sometimes-veggie-lovers.
As plant-forward options continue to shine, here are four ways that operators are innovating with these items on menus.
1. Menuing outside-of-the-box proteins
While consumers will likely never abandon animal protein completely, a growing number of consumers are willing to try new and unique foods, including new plant-based proteins. Operators are branching out from standard tofu and black-bean burgers and have started experimenting with alternatives.
For instance, pea protein has been on the rise—particularly in smoothies and snacks such as fortified granola bars—and burgers made of vegetables such as beets or grains such as quinoa are making their way to the forefront of the veggie revolution.
2. Giving comfort classics a veggie-forward spin
According to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 40% of consumers ages 18-34 say they are ordering more items that feature traditional flavors than they were a year ago. For those diners, innovative and unique plant-based dishes may not resonate, but updated classics might. For instance, instead of (or in addition to) tater tots, operators might consider menuing appetizers such as broccoli tots or offering up cauliflower fried “rice” as a lighter version of the Chinese takeout classic, as the University of California Berkeley does at its Café 3 dining hall.
Other comfort foods that can get a veggie-based revamp might include classic spaghetti Bolognese, but with sauce that’s mushroom-based rather than meat-based.
3. Menuing unique veggies for adventurous eaters
On the other side of the coin, some operators are leaning into some consumers’ desire to try new things. In Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 52% of consumers 18-34—and 35% of consumers overall—say that they are more interested in trying new flavors now than a year ago.
To appeal to this interest, operators are rolling out dishes that feature unique and interesting vegetables and plants—ones that some diners may be trying for the first time. For instance, cactus is considered an “experimental” ingredient when it comes to the flavor lifecycle of Mexican dishes. Other experimental—or new and not-yet-trending ingredients and flavors—include giardiniera on sandwiches, plum sauce for chicken and sesame pineapple and black beans for seafood.
Additionally, for operators who want to innovate with plants, looking to locally sourced produce for inspiration can be a big help, especially for sourcing produce that’s not as commonly used.
4. Offering plant-forward dishes, rather than plant-only dishes
To appeal to consumers who are interested in eating more vegetables and plants but who aren’t interested in giving up eating meat entirely (even for one meal), some operators are looking for ways to offer a blend of the two. For instance, some operators are blending mushrooms into their meat-based burgers for additional depth of flavor and added health benefits, while others are swapping in veggies for noodles would be used while keeping meat-based sauces on the plate.
At Mary’s Pizza Shack in Sonoma, Calif., diners can order Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles, a low-carb option that features large shrimp sauteed with Italian roasted cherry tomatoes, garbanzo beans and parmesan on top of a bed of zucchini and squash noodles.
Phillips Gourmet Mushrooms: Sautéed, Roasted, Ready
Phillips Sautéed-Roasted mushrooms are ready for any plant-forward concept, from center-of-the-plate to sides and sandwiches. Phillips Sautéed-Roasted Mushrooms add rich, umami-enhanced flavor to any plant-forward dish—protein or veggie—all with no additional prep work required. Learn more here.