Consumers Ready for Plant-based Protein Menu Items. Are Restaurants?

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As consumers become more curious about meat alternatives, restaurants need to debut quick and delicious plant-based protein menu items

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • In the U.S., meat consumption is under pressure and plant-based protein is growing in popularity.
  • Plant-based proteins are especially in demand on restaurant menus: consumers are almost twice as likely to order plant-based protein menu items than purchase it in a grocery store.
  • This makes for a business opportunity for restaurants, as well as a learning opportunity for chefs less familiar with meat alternatives.
  • One executive chef offers up his tips—and a recipe—for easily adding plant-based protein to restaurant menus.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

The tipping point for plant-based protein as a meat alternative is here—at least in restaurants. “Forty-one percent of North American consumers have reduced their meat consumption compared to a year ago,” says Soumya Nair, Director of Marketing Insights at Kerry North America, citing survey results she recently collected from 502 consumers. Plant-based proteins with a taste and texture similar to meat are filling in the gap: 41% of those surveyed had ordered plant-based protein in a restaurant menu in the past month and 21% had recently purchased a meat alternative, despite only 13% characterizing themselves as vegetarian or vegan.

Experimenting Best Saved for Dining Out

What can be inferred from the fact that consumers are more inclined to try a plant-based protein meat alternative when dining out versus eating in? Nair suspects this is happening because consumers aren’t yet confident in their ability to create a tasty meal from the untraditional ingredient, despite their interest.

This curiosity and lack of confidence around plant-based proteins creates a big opportunity for restaurants that update their menus with meat alternatives. Consumers in the younger Millennial, older Millennial and Gen X segments are most inclined to order plant-based proteins from a menu, says Nair, with 60%, 51% and 37%, respectively, voicing interest. Establishments catering to these consumer segments, especially, should begin testing new menu items now.

Selecting Meat Alternative Menu Items

Plant-based protein consumers tend to also be interested in clean label products, so they often look for restaurant menu items they perceive as healthy and that include better-for-you ingredients. When adding plant-based protein to your menu, consider remaking items that already are crowd pleasers. For instance, you could add a meat alternative to flatbread pizzas, burritos, sandwiches and various “bowls,” including ones that are Asian-inspired or feature breakfast fare. All of these concepts scored high in consumer preference in the recent Kerry survey.

Familiar dishes are approachable, and so is familiar language. The term “plant-based protein” resonates best with consumers, so consider using this term as you add new items to your menu and advertising campaigns, suggests Nair.

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Prepping Chefs for Plant-based Proteins

Of course, plant-based proteins—which come in strips, shreds, slices, sausages, ground form and as chunks—may be a new ingredient for chefs, too. Because a restaurant meal could be a person’s first experience with plant-based protein, it’s important to treat each dish as such, making it a goal to leave them craving a repeat experience.

It’s also important to create menu items that are as simple to prepare as other foods coming out of the kitchen. “Because meat alternatives usually don’t need to be cooked, assembling them into a meal should take just one or two steps,” says Cian Leahy, Senior Executive Chef for Kerry North America.

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Shreds are one of the most versatile forms of plant-based protein. “Chefs are finding that plant-based protein shreds can used anywhere you would use chopped chicken—sautéed with tacos, seasoned and tossed in a sauce or served cold on top of salad,” says Leahy. Simply replace the chicken with an equal amount of plant-based protein.

One popular preparation is adding plant-based protein to a Caesar salad wrap, says Leahy.

Plant-based Protein Caesar Salad Wrap
(makes one wrap)
  • Sundried Tomato Tortilla
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • 1 cup PlantFare™ (or other plant-based protein shreds)
  • Shredded Parmesan
  • Caesar Dressing
  • 1 T Lemon Juice
Assemble ingredients in order listed.

Restaurant-ready plant-based protein sources are becoming more available, but not all offerings are equal. To learn more about our proprietary research, including which ingredients consumers want included or left out of meat alternatives, or to hear more about PlantFare™, our plant-based protein shreds, contact us.

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