Is plant-based on your restaurant’s menu? 

Restaurants have been leading the way on plant based meat adoption

It’s no secret that plant based meat alternatives from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have exploded in popularity. In fact, independent restaurants played a huge role in helping these companies get a foothold in the market. But if you’ve been holding back on adding plant-based items to your restaurant’s menu, now might be the time to pull the trigger. In this article we help you get a footing on whether or not plant based meat items make sense for your restuarant or bar.

Plant-based isn’t niche, it’s mainstream

How big is the plant based meat market? Big enough that even McDonald’s has added a McPlant burger to its menu at hundreds of locations, and Starbucks has a plant-based “Impossible Breakfast Sandwich.” 

Global plant based meat sales are expected to reach over $6 billion in 2022, and while that’s not even 1% of the total market today, plant based meat sales are expected to grow almost 20% per year over the next 5 to 10 years reaching almost $25 billion in annual sales by 2030. In other words, this is a wave you might want to catch.

What’s in a “plant based” meat?

As you probably know by now, plant based meat alternatives are a far cry from their somewhat sad predecessors, veggie burgers. While veggie burgers were/are made from mostly beans, corn, and other vegetables, nobody would mistake them for ground beef. Plant-based burgers, on the other hand, have been engineered to imitate the texture and flavor of real meat, and frankly, they do a damn good job.

There are plant based meat alternative for just about every sub-category of meat and seafood. Some plant based products are better meat substitutes than others with alternative ground beef being the most popular category. So what's actually in a plant based meant? The main ingredient for many, if not most, plant based meat products is soy. They also frequently contain a lot of man-made binder ingredients. Other ingredients might include peas, or beans along with oils, fillers, binders, and flavorings. Check out the ingredient list for the Impossible Burger for yourself.

Why do restaurant guests like plant based meats?

There are a variety of motivations driving the increased demand and interest in plant based menu items. Consumers may choose a plant-based meat out of health concerns, dietary restrictions or practices, concerns around animal cruelty, or a desire to reduce environmental impact. But how well do plant based meats actually deliver on these perceived benefits?

Better for you? Possibly. Good for you? Not so much.

People generally associate a vegetarian or vegan diet with being healthier than consuming lots of meat, and all else equal, that may be true. But plant based meats are not health food. Take a look at the nutritional facts for a quarter pound Impossible Burger.

One quarter pound Impossible burger contains 14g of fat, which is 18% of the recommended daily fat consumption in a 2,000 calorie diet. But the burger also contains 40% of an individual's recommended saturated fat in-take per day. While diners might be avoiding some health risks associated with eating real ground beef, nobody should kid themselves that these burgers are a replacement for a salad. In some cases plant-based meats may even be less healthy than their real meat competitors.

Environmental impact

The agriculture industry is responsible for a significant portion of global carbon and green-house gas emissions, and it is generally accepted that raising livestock for meat has a higher impact on climate change than raising plant-based crops. Cattle and cows are seen as big methane contributors, so more plant-based meats will likely reduce the emission impacts on our food chain, but other environmental considerations also matter.

Soy is often the lead ingredient in these products and the vast majority of soybeans grown in the US are Genetically Modified. GMO crops frequently encourage farmers to use more chemical herbicide which can runoff fields and damage the environment in different ways. Regardless of the whether plant based meats fully deliver on the benefits your restaurant guests expect, these products continue to grow in popularity and deserve the attention of restaurant owners, GMs, and Chefs.

Should I add plant based meat to my menu? 

If you decide to add a plant based meat to your menu, you should research the product options available with your supply vendors. Most broadline foodservice distributors will carry at least one plant based option, but you may have to look into specialty distributors for some food categories. You may have heard of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which are both manufacturers of plant-based meat, but who else has products in this category? Here are a few other suppliers:

  • Amy’s Kitchen
  • Kellogg
  • Maple Leaf Foods
  • Pinnacle Foods (Conga)
  • Quorn Foods
  • MorningStar Farms

Consider the Costs

The cost of meat substitutes is currently higher than the cost of animal meat with frozen Impossible Burger patties costing around $10.00 per pound. There are several reasons for the higher price including:

  • High ingredient cost
  • Supply chain issues 
  • Production costs

The price premium of plant based meats over traditional meat may shrink over time if interest in meatless options continues to grow. But for the time being, when it comes to making a profit from meat substitutes, don't be afraid to up-charge. Ultimately, the decision to add, or not add plant based meat items to your restaurant's menu will depend on how well these items fit with your restaurant concept and client base.

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