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Getting flexitarians to order more plant-based foods

Consumers who also eat meat are a lucrative target market for alternative proteins

Sponsored by Nestlé Professional Sweet Earth

Plant-based foods are capturing everyone’s attention, including meat eaters. According to the Research and Markets report, United States Plant-Based Meat Market 2021, in 2020 the plant-based food category was worth $1.06 billion. The business is expected to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13%, and is predicted to reach $2.63 billion in sales by 2027.

The growth will come not only from vegans and vegetarians, but also from the much larger segment of people who are adding plant-based foods to their diets because they want to eat healthy, environmentally sustainable foods. Flexitarians, who occasionally eat meat but mostly eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, are driving sales of these alternative proteins.

According to Nielsen data, 62% of consumers are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns, and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein.

Foodservice operators see the opportunity, and have been boosting their plant-based offerings. According to Datassential, while menus shrank by 10.2% during COVID, menu mentions of plant-based increased 35% last year. Here are some ways to capture these sales.

Leverage limited time offers

For many of these consumers, their favorite foodservice establishments are the best places to sample plant-based meat alternatives. According to The NPD Group’s 2020 Eating Patterns in America report, when it comes to meat analogs, restaurants and other foodservice outlets have the largest share of eating occasions at 78% while at home represents 22%. Operators have an opportunity to introduce menu items that feature beef, pork and chicken replacements as specials or limited time offers.

Think outside the bun

Plant-based burgers have long been the legacy favorites for consumers looking for a meatless swap, and manufacturers have improved the texture and flavor of these patties over the years. Also popular are sausages, fillets, brats and meatballs as plant-based product formats. Plant-based grounds work well in tacos, bowls and other on-trend snacks and meals. Also, offering plant-based chicken items can help operators compete with fast-growing chicken chains.

Use descriptors

In addition to sustainable and healthy, descriptors such as regional influences or seasonal flavors are important too. So while plant-based is a key feature, so is flavor, such as Nashville Hot, pickled or seasonal spice. Be sure to include information about the ingredients’ provenance, method of cooking the menu items and flavor profiles. Also, since much ordering is online now, include photos in digital menus.

Balance familiar with comfort

Except for the most adventurous eaters, diners often want to find something that they already know is delicious. Offering plant-based ingredients in a familiar context can help drive sales, such as plant-based meatballs with spaghetti, plant-based patties as sliders and barbecued plant-based chicken. Also, since many of these consumers also eat meat, operators can combine meat and non-meat for plant-forward menu items.

According to Euromonitor, 23% of consumers globally say they are trying to limit their meat intake, up slightly from 21% in 2020. There are opportunities for foodservice operators to tap into this growing audience by offering plant-based and plant-forward menu items.