Consumer Trends

Plant-based menu items impact restaurant choice

Meat alternatives are playing a bigger role in brand loyalty as a result of the pandemic.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The coronavirus crisis has changed consumer attitudes toward plant-based eating, according to a recent survey. 

Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) polled 800 consumers in pre-COVID January and again in August of this year. The latest data reveals that 30% of respondents would switch restaurant brands to satisfy their taste for plant-based meat alternatives, up from 23% earlier in 2020.

Almost one-third of respondents—30%--tried plant-based meats for the first time during the pandemic. And the newbies were mostly family households with children, reports RMS.

For the most part, plant-based burgers, tacos and faux chicken nuggets are takeout- and delivery-friendly—one reason they may be gaining traction now. But their flavor and texture have also improved since the first analogs were introduced at restaurants in 2016. In fact, in the RMS survey, 39% of respondents reported liking the taste of meat alternatives, an increase of 10% since January.

Interestingly, “they’re healthier” declined as a reason for ordering plant-based meats, down from 46% to 43%. But a growing number of consumers believe they are better for the environment—52% compared to 43%.

Consumers now have more options when it comes to ordering plant-based meats. Technomic Ignite menu data shows that the number of operators menuing these items keeps increasing, reaching a little over 28% earlier this year.

From quick-service to casual dining, chains have jumped on the trend. While plant-based burgers are the most popular format, operators are branching out. TGI Fridays just launched plant-based chili, El Pollo Loco has a chickenless burrito and Dunkin’ menus a breakfast sandwich with a faux sausage patty.

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