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Plants will continue to take over the plate in 2016

(Image: miikkahoo/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons)

Vegetables continued to take over more menu categories and replace meat at some meals for a growing number of consumers this year, and the trend is predicted to grow even bigger in 2016.

Rising interest in healthy eating, the movement towards local foods and a growing acceptance of meals that don’t center around animal protein are all driving vegetables’ prominence and popularity.

Locally grown produce ranked third on the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary forecast for 2016, and NRA director of research communications Annika Stensson said the coming year is expected to bring more restaurants featuring vegetables at the center of the plate. As more consumers warm to the idea of meals without meat, we will see more chefs “celebrating produce in and of itself — everything from staple items like carrots and beets, to less familiar items like watermelon radishes, fiddleheads and kohlrabi,” Stensson told The Packer.

Vegetarian offerings are becoming increasingly popular, with 35.4% of menus offering a vegetarian item, according to data from Datassential Menu Trends. As the trend toward vegetable-centric dining grows, these offerings are growing outside the typical salads and side dishes to include more entrees that put vegetable at the center of the meal. Datassential reports that 36.6% of all restaurants feature a veggie main entree, and that figure has grown 6.3% over the past four years.

If the rise of meatless entrees at traditional restaurants is a subtle indicator that our view of vegetables is changing, a bigger sign can be found in the steady stream of new eateries and food producers that take typically meat-centric concepts and make them fully vegetarian. One such eatery, the buzzed-about Superiority Burger in New York’s East Village, offers plant-based takes on classic hamburgers and sloppy joes. GQ named the restaurant’s tofu-based burger its Burger of the Year.

Even butcheries, which have always been a meat-only operation, are getting a vegetarian makeover. Concepts such as Minnesota’s The Herbivorous Butcher and YamChops located in Ontario, Canada, are offering meat-free versions of sausage, deli meats and cheese that could fool even a seasoned meat-eater at first glance. Rising star startup Beyond Meat has garnered plenty of press and capital from its mission to make plant-based proteins that it hopes will help reduce global meat consumption by 25% by 2020.

As the number of meat-free options increases, more diners are choosing plant-based meals, with younger diners leading the pack.

Millennials are the most likely demographic to choose plant-based proteins when dining in restaurants, and 14% of millennial diners said they would be most likely to order a 100% plant-based meal when dining out, according to a 2014 survey from The Hartman Group. Members of Generation X were second most likely to order a plant-based option, with 10% saying they would choose a meatless meal, and Baby Boomers followed slightly behind at 9%.

Across the board, 18% of diners said they are ordering more plant-based foods than they were one year ago, according to The Hartman Group’s report, “Diners’ Changing Behaviors: Sustainability, Wellness & Where to Eat.” The rise in plant-based food orders corresponds with the 42% of diners who said they are trying to order healthier options when dining out.

The rise in vegetable-focused offerings also points to consumers’ growing concern for sustainability when dining out, according to the report. In a group of consumers who identify themselves as “receptive to sustainability,” eight out of 10 surveyed said they would choose a sustainable meal option, especially a plant-based option.

Tapping into this desire for plant-based options can help restaurants appeal to consumers looking to make sustainable food choices, and it can also benefit the bottom line by helping restaurants more accurately predict food costs, since “menus and concepts that rely extensively on animal proteins are exposed to increasing food cost volatility, making it more difficult to forecast financial performance,” the report said.
How will you incorporate plant-based proteins into your business in 2016? Tell us about it in the comments.

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