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4 Trends that are Defining the Future of Plant-based Food

Hands holding Impossible Pizza, Impossible Burger, Impossible Bao, Impossible Empanada

Meat made from plants is officially a menu must-have. While once considered a niche trend, the U.S. market for plant-based meat is projected to reach ~$15 billion by 2025(opens in a new tab). This is especially relevant to restaurant owners because consumers of all ages are eating more plant-based meat and want to see more meat alternatives on menus(opens in a new tab). Contrary to popular opinion, vegans aren’t the main driver of this growth. Know who is? Meat Eaters.(opens in a new tab)

98% of people who buy plant-based meat identify as meat eaters.

Demand for these innovative products is currently through the roof, giving chefs and restaurant owners the opportunity to create exciting new choices for existing fans while simultaneously enticing new customers to give your products a try. Yet, some restaurant operators remain hesitant to branch out and experiment. But believe us, you don't want to be left behind because meat made from plants is going mainstream. Here are four trends that are convincing foodservice operators of all sizes that now is the perfect time to add more meat made from plants to the menu.

Trend #1: Plant-based industry growth is skyrocketing at retail and in foodservice

Sales of plant-based protein are increasing

Just take a look at the shocking numbers: the latest report by The Plant-Based Foods Association showed (opens in a new tab)that plant-based food retail sales in 2020 grew much faster at 27 percent than the total US retail food market at 15 percent. Plant-based meat sales, in particular, increased by 45 percent.

Consumers aren't just looking to buy meat made from plants from retail outlets, though. They also want to order unique dishes made with it from their local restaurants. The astounding numbers coming from delivery apps,(opens in a new tab) whose business more than doubled from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 due to the pandemic, are particularly persuasive. An August report by DoorDash, one of the largest such apps by market share, showed that orders for vegan burgers increased by 433 percent(opens in a new tab) from January 2020 to the end of June 2020. 

Grubhub noted a similar trend during the same period, revealing that plant-based food orders went up by 135 percent. In its new "Year in Food(opens in a new tab)" trend report, the app also reported that plant-based meat products grew in popularity by a whopping 463 percent in 2020. Plant-based burgers were also among the top 10 fastest-growing menu items, expanding by a jaw-dropping 362% in the past four years. They debuted as the second most popular food ordered on GrubHub in 2020.

Trend #2: Consumer demand keeps increasing

Consumers of all ages and backgrounds are eating more plant-based meat

42% of QSR diners expect all fast-food restaurants to offer plant-based menu items*

After reviewing those impressive numbers, it should come as no surprise that over 50% of 18 to 35-year-olds eat plant-based meat at least once a month(opens in a new tab). Another rising trend? Plant-based meat consumption is rising in communities of color(opens in a new tab), especially among African Americans who embrace plant-based alternatives at 2X the rate of white Americans. (opens in a new tab)

Meat made from plants is also incredibly popular with Gen Z. According to The Motley Fool(opens in a new tab), 49% of respondents to Piper Sandler's survey of American teenagers eat plant-based meat or are open to eating it, with another 40% who said they hadn't tried it but were interested. Even more interesting is that food remains Gen Z's top wallet priority. This likely indicates they'll continue to spend money on meat made from plants for years to come. 

Trend #3: Health and environmental concerns are primary motivators for consumers of all ages 

Impossible™ meat made from plants recently launched in schools due to popular demand with young consumers who care about making sustainable choices

Consumer preferences are clearly undergoing a seismic shift, especially among meat-eaters. More and more Americans are reducing their meat consumption for health and environmental reasons. Research shows that 43 million regularly consume plant-based protein, and 88% do not consider themselves vegan or vegetarian. Additionally, more than 1 in 4 US Consumers already reduced their animal meat consumption in 2020(opens in a new tab). This trend is expected to continue in 2021. 

According to recent Nielsen data, a whopping 62% of consumers are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns(opens in a new tab), and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein. Mattson president and chief innovation officer Barb Stuckey has revealed(opens in a new tab):

More people [are] choosing to eat plant-based foods because they think it's better for the environment— especially among younger consumers, whereas for older consumers it's more about health.”

Across all generations, health benefits are still a top reason for choosing plant-based foods, so savvy restaurant operators are adding plant-based proteins to the menu with increasing frequency.

Trend #4: Businesses who serve plant-based meat are experiencing massive benefits

Impossible™ products on the menu drive increased sales, demand and repeat orders

Consumers indeed love the health and environmental benefits of meat made from plants, but adding it to the menu is simply good business for food service operators because it can directly impact sales. In a survey of customers who visited restaurants serving Impossible™ items in 2020, 52% said they decided to order Impossible products before arriving. Some restaurants selling Impossible™ Burger even reported up to a 36% month over month increase(opens in a new tab) in same-store sales after adding it to the menu.  

Looking for more proof? The 2019 launch of the Impossible™ Whopper® at Burger King contributed to its best quarter of sales growth in four years(opens in a new tab). Now other national chains like Qdoba and White Castle, to name a few, have also gotten on board(opens in a new tab).

However, it's not just fast-food operators embracing meat made from plants. From national chains to fine dining, it’s now present at nearly every level of the restaurant industry. In fact, the New York Times(opens in a new tab) recently reported that acclaimed restaurant Eleven Madison Park is changing to an entirely plant-based menu, with chef Daniel Humm citing environmental reasons as a motivating factor. 

But the simple truth is that plant-based proteins are selling.

You’re seeing plant-based options on 10 to 15 percent of the menu. Impossible Foods... is making a footprint because their plant-based products are consumer-friendly, nostalgic, and familiar... so they’re becoming increasingly popular.

- Benjamin Goldman,(opens in a new tab) chef de cuisine at Planta South Beach. 

Are you ready to see what meat made from plants can do for your menu?


*Mintel QSR Restaurants - US - March 2021, n=1,403 adult QSR visitors

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