Plant-Powered Progress: 76% of US Foodservice Leaders Enhancing Plant-Based Selections

The culinary landscape of the US is undergoing a significant transformation.

By Milo Runkle

95% of foodservice operators in the US anticipate stable or increased sales of plant-based food in the next year.

As more Americans embrace plant-based diets, restaurants and foodservice operators are taking note and adjusting their offerings accordingly. Here's a deep dive into the current trends and what diners can expect in the coming year.

Plant-Based Momentum

According to a recent report by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), a staggering 95% of foodservice operators in the US anticipate stable or increased sales of vegan food and beverages in the next year. Furthermore, 76% plan to maintain or expand their plant-based meat offerings. This shift aligns with consumer behavior, as many are increasing their plant-based intake and cutting down on meat.

The PBFA's report reveals that nearly half (48.4%) of all US restaurants now offer plant-based options, marking a 62% surge in such menu items over the past decade. This change is driven by a growing acceptance of vegan food, spurred by heightened awareness of health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits.

Consumer Trends

The report sheds light on some fascinating consumer behaviors:

- Over four times as many Americans have increased their plant-based consumption compared to those who have decreased it.
- One-third of US consumers use plant-based dairy alternatives weekly, with alt-meat following closely.
- Around 25% of home-cooked meals are entirely plant-based, while 19% of meals consumed outside are.
- Consumers are twice as likely to try plant-based foods in retail settings due to factors like convenience, cost, and perceived health benefits.

Moreover, 43% of consumers believe that the availability of plant-based options enhances their dining experience. This sentiment is especially strong among Gen Z and millennials, with many identifying as vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, or 'meat limiters'.

Plant-based options are not just a trend but a genuine need.

Foodservice Operators' Perspective

While the demand for plant-based options is evident, some challenges persist. Operators cite reasons like lack of demand (53%), higher costs (46%), difficulty in predicting demand (33%), and brand image concerns (20%) for not introducing plant-based meat substitutes.

However, the fast-casual segment, popular among younger generations and those seeking quick, healthy meals, leads in offering plant-based options, with a 70% menu penetration. Fine dining establishments, on the other hand, lag behind.

In terms of specific food types, plant-based seafood and egg options have seen significant growth, with Yo Egg and Impact Food introducing innovative products in the market.

Inclusivity in Dining

Hannah Lopez, director of marketplace development at PBFA, emphasizes the shift from a separate 'vegan menu' to creating inclusive dining experiences. The PBFA report suggests that clear labeling and intentional placement of plant-based options are crucial for consumer awareness and inclusivity.

Interestingly, there's a stronger preference for terms like 'plant-based' and 'dairy-free' over 'vegan' and 'vegetarian'. This trend indicates that many consumers are open to reducing animal product consumption without entirely eliminating it.

The Future of Plant-Based Dining

The PBFA believes that the foodservice industry provides a stable platform for plant-based food companies aiming for long-term success. Jennifer DiFrancesco, director of culinary innovation at Sodexo Campus, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that plant-based options are not just a trend but a genuine need.

In conclusion, the rise of plant-based dining is not a fleeting phase but a significant shift in the US culinary scene. As foodservice operators innovate and expand their menus, diners can look forward to more inclusive, delicious, and sustainable dining experiences.

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