Every successful F&B program should take into account major dietary trends and societal shifts, rather than just allergies and intolerances. This is becoming increasingly evident in the latest industry reports, such as the 2022 Plant-Forward Opportunity, elaborated in collaboration with The Culinary Institute of America, Food for Climate League, and the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative.
The report is based on a survey of 1500 Americans and their attitudes toward plant-forward eating – a style of cooking that emphasizes and celebrates, yet is not limited to foods from plant-based sources. It also analyzes whether sustainability and health are important factors influencing consumers’ choices regarding what and where they eat, which makes the results an excellent base for forward-thinking menu design.
So, what are the key takeaways?
Consumers are both health – and environmentally conscious, and expect the same from the properties where they eat and where they stay.
Over half of consumers say they are concerned about the climate, and a similar proportion believes their individual food choices impact the environment.
Many more students (the hotel guests of the future) make this connection, and ¾ of those climate-concerned consumers believe their dietary choices impact the environment.
Half of all respondents think that plant-based foods, in general, are better for the environment, with gen Z being statistically more likely to adopt this belief.
Almond milk and vegan cheese have gained traction on restaurant menus.
Almond has become the top-offered alternative to milk on restaurant menus over the last four years, closely followed by oat milk, which has
skyrocketed in popularity, primarily as part of coffee-based drinks. Non-dairy cheese can be found on restaurant menus twice as often as 4 years ago and 4 in 10 consumers who have tried vegan cheese either like it or love it.
Plant-forward dishes have seen significant growth on restaurant menus in the past four years.
Trending dishes include a range of items, like burgers imitating meat, meat-optional bowls and loaded fries, meat-free pasta and fried rice dishes, and dishes that feature vegetables as the main event. 55% of consumers consider plant-based whole foods to be healthier than processed alternatives, and it will certainly be interesting to watch how this trend develops over the coming years.
A staggeringly high percentage of consumers associate packaging with environmental impact.
For those identified as environmentally concerned, this is nearly 9 in 10 consumers. Boomers share this association more than Gen Z, so, knowing that consumers choose their eateries partially based on their environmental impact, addressing your packaging can be a straightforward way to showcase your commitment to sustainability and get customers to walk through your doors.
More consumers are open to trying dishes with mixed animal and plant proteins.
Mixed dishes are statistically more likely to appeal to those who eat meat on a daily basis, as their main concern with plant-forward nutrition is taste. This is why any plant-forward additions to hotel or restaurant menus should be based on recognizable taste profiles: adaptations of well-known dishes or more frequent inclusions of dishes that are plant-based to start with. Adding a cauliflower alternative to Buffalo wings is a good example!
Many consumers willing to order plant-forward meals are also willing to pay a price comparable to meat; however, willingness sometimes depends on the menu item.
11% of the respondents were willing to pay more for plant-forward meals that required more labor and/or more quality ingredients than meat-centric meals. Around a quarter of all respondents were willing to pay a similar price regardless and for around 20% it depended on a menu item. 30% of daily meat eaters would still not order a plant-forward meal at a restaurant.
So, how to apply these findings in a way that will appeal to a wide variety of guests and won’t result in unnecessary waste?
Start by including some plant-forward options based on well-known restaurant staples. Consumers who look for plant-forward options find them available only some of the time, so being the venue that offers those can give you an edge over the competition. Bet on quality, exciting plant-based dishes, get creative about offering meat-based sides and include intriguing ingredients. The key is a slow, gradual transition that accommodates everyone and creates a thrilling, taste-driven environment, in which your guests will feel comfortable trying anything on the menu.
In the end, it is all about pursuing excellence in every aspect of your menu.