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Restaurants’ meat replacement sales jump 268%, study finds

But costs are also climbing steeply.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants’ sales of faux meat products have soared 268% so far in 2019, a breakneck acceleration from the 21.7% increase logged last year, according to the Dining Alliance purchasing cooperative. 

The sharp upswing was fueled in part by a 26.4% increase since 2017 in the number of restaurants that offer meatless alternatives to beef, chicken and pork, the Alliance found. The numbers indicate that early adopters are still enjoying healthy sales increases from the vegetarian options, even as the novelty of the products is wearing off.

But the increase in demand has also come at a rising price for restaurants. The Alliance said the cost of meat analogs has risen 29% this year as suppliers scramble to keep up with orders.

Despite all the hoopla over new meat analogs from suppliers such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, half the meatless alternatives sold by restaurants this year were burgers featuring beans as a main ingredient, the Alliance said. The finding suggests that far more than novelty is driving the surge in the popularity of so-called plant-forward options.

Alliance President Christina Donahue attributes the surge in sales of meat analogs this year to three factors:

  • An improvement in the quality of what’s available, to the point that restaurants are comfortable with putting the alternatives on their menus.
  • A demand by vegetarians and flexitarians for meatless options beyond salads.
  • The discovery by restaurants that the alternatives can command a higher price than the meat items they mimic.

The Alliance noted that meat sales still far outstrip the revenues generated by their meatless analogs. Donahue encouraged restaurateurs to ride the boom by considering alternatives to meat products other than burgers. “Smart operators are finding success throughout their menu: in tacos, on pizzas, meatballs, nachos, chilis, sandwiches and other applications,” she said in the report. 

The Dining Alliance aggregates the food and supply purchases of independents to secure volume discounts for participants in the co-op.

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