The plant-based bubble will burst
Although new menu items made with plant-based meat alternatives are being added to chain menus on an almost weekly basis, and the food exhibits at this year’s National Restaurant Association show in Chicago were dominated by alternatives for beef, pork, chicken and seafood, there are simply too many players in the marketplace for most of them to survive.
Layoffs at pea-protein-focused company Beyond Meat have made headlines, as has its slumping stock price, and hype from many of the producers of animal substitutes is contrasted by off-the-record anecdotes from chain representatives that, while trial of meat analogs is high — and not just in the coastal communities where you’d expect it, but nationwide — retrial is low. Furthermore, Baum & Whiteman point out that supermarket sales of “faux meat,” as they call it, have dropped by around 10% in the past year while meat sales continue to rise.
The international food & restaurant consulting firm also argues that these items’ long ingredient lists and ultra-processed nature are a turn-off to consumers.
Moreover, chefs generally don’t like them.
Plant-based proteins aren’t going to go away, but there will likely be a massive shakeout among manufacturers.
Fried chicken burritos
Fried chicken sandwiches have enjoyed rising popularity since before the start of the pandemic, and so have burritos. Yet we rarely see the two combined, at least in the U.S. — they are popping up, usually without rice, in schnitzel-loving Central Europe. The rarity of this item in the U.S. is likely to change, and in fact it already is changing a little; 5-unit New York City-based chain Calexico has fried chicken burritos, and so does Bubbakoo’s Burritos, a chain based in Wall, N.J., that’s approaching 100 units and added regular and Nashville hot chicken varieties earlier this year. Segment leader Chipotle Mexican Grill already has deep fryers, which it uses for its tortilla chips and taco shells, meaning major equipment upgrades wouldn’t be necessary, although other operational hassles are likely, because breading and frying chicken consistently is tricky. But positive responses from consumers might make it worth the trouble.
On the other hand, fried-chicken experts could easily get in on the action, and indeed Chick-fil-A already has breakfast burritos, and fried chicken nuggets or strips can be added to them.
Cold coffee now outsells hot coffee at many coffeehouse chains, but of course their flavor is diluted as the ice melts. For years, clever independent chefs and beverage directors have been freezing coffee in ice-cube trays to offer iced coffee with consistent flavor. Coffee houses could start doing that too, on a larger scale, and offer it as a premium, similar to an extra shot of espresso. As an added bonus, those alluring black cubes floating in a beverage would make for eye-catching Instagram posts.