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Consumer interest in plants continues to grow

Restaurants are adding more plant-forward choices to menus in response to demand.
Cauliflower Rice
Photo courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Plant-based burgers and sausage patties are now permanent items on the menus of major fast-food and breakfast chains. And while those products may be the gateway into plant-forward eating for many consumers, diners are also seeking more grains, vegetables, nondairy milks and other plant foods on menus.

Several recent studies reinforce the trend. According to Technomic’s 2020 Generational Consumer Trend Report, 41% of millennials enjoy trying new plant-based foods and beverages at restaurants. 

While pure vegetarians and vegans still represent a relatively small percentage of consumers, about 22% consider themselves flexitarians, as reported by the Culinary Institute of America during its virtual Menus of Change conference last month. Flexitarian eating embraces a plant-forward approach; a diet focused on eating less animal meat and more fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.

Consumers cite three main reasons for putting more plants on the plate, finds a survey from the United Soybean Board:

• Improving overall health and wellness

• Improving the quality of protein in the diet

• Helping to protect the environment/promote sustainability

Restaurants are helping consumers meet these goals with more inventive preparations of vegetables, more globally-inspired plant-forward dishes and more choice overall. Technomic’s Menu Monitor noted a significant year-over-year increase in menu mentions of plant-based eggs (up 211%), plant-based shrimp (60%) and cauliflower rice (57%) in the second quarter of 2020. Other ingredients are also tracking upward at a smaller rate.


Take a look at five of the recent and noteworthy plant-forward menu introductions at chains:

• Chipotle Mexican Grill: Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice as an option in burritos, bowls, etc.

• Burgerville: Asparagus Fries, hand-battered and fried, as an alternative to french fries

• Zoes Kitchen: FLT, a sandwich layered with a falafel patty, hummus, tomatoes, spring mix and lemon vinaigrette on multi-grain bread

• Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse: Crispy Chickpea & Eggplant Burger

• Hummus & Pita Co.: Plant-based Vegan Shawarma and Vegan Moroccan Meatballs

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