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How plant-forward trends provide menu innovation opportunities

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Plant-forward eating is no longer a market outlier: Dishes rich in plant-based ingredients have grown 30% on Top 500 chain menus, according to Technomic's “Menu & Flavor Trends” report published in September 2019. 

This shift doesn’t mean people are giving up animal protein, however. According to the April 2019 Consumer Food Trends report from Technomic, consumers are trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet but aren’t eliminating meat. In fact, most diners who enjoy plant-forward eating still consider high-quality animal protein to be an essential flavor driver to a balanced diet.

But many of today’s consumers also want more items tailored to their individual dietary needs and preferences—especially if they are flexitarian; following diets such as keto, paleo or Whole30; or are restricted in what they can eat due to medical conditions such as food allergies or heart disease.

To meet the evolving appetites of their customers, operators should develop a variety of inventive plant-forward dishes featuring high-quality animal proteins in smaller portions, as well as create-your-own options that can be customized for personal tastes and preferences.

How chefs can deliver on the plant-forward eating trend without sacrificing taste or creativity

To create flavorful, nutritious menu items that appeal to diners interested in balancing plant-forward and animal-based proteins, try these tips:

  • Create dishes that scale back the quantity of meat. Pair four- to five-ounce portions of high-quality animal protein with larger portions of plant-forward choices such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, soy foods, legumes, and nuts and seeds. It’s easy to change up a pasta dish, for example, by adding more vegetables or legumes and topping it with a smaller portion of grilled pork. This approach also gives operators budget flexibility to procure meat from higher quality producers that avoid the use of antibiotics and hormones—something also in demand among today’s consumers.
  • Add animal protein as an enhancement rather than featuring it as a main dish. Try sprinkling crumbled bacon on roasted cauliflower, or combine black forest ham with roasted red pears and Brussels sprouts and top the dish with candied uncured bacon and pecans.
  • Allow diners to customize entrees as bowls, which can include a plant-forward base of farro, rice or salad greens and animal protein toppings such as pork or chicken.
  • Offer items for different dayparts, such as a breakfast hash loaded with sweet potato, sausage and kale or a happy hour flatbread topped with garlic, Italian sausage and broccoli rabe.

As operators experiment with plant-forward menu items to satisfy consumer demand, prioritizing flavor will be key. While taste is a top order driver for any menu item, it’s especially important in dishes featuring plant-based ingredients, which may have strong flavors or may not be as familiar to consumers’ taste buds.

For more insight on the plant-forward movement and how operators are responding, click here to download “Plant-Based Forward Thinking: How to Strike a Balance Between Plant-Based and Animal Proteins in Your Operation,” a white paper produced by Clemens Food Group.


This post is sponsored by Clemens Food Group

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