60% of US Restaurant Operators See Plant-Based As A Long-Term Trend
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One-third of US consumers say they like/love plant-based foods, and restaurant operators are increasingly likely to add plant-based menu items, with price and taste still key attributes for diners.
In a January webinar titled ‘The State of Plant-Based in Food Service’, the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), a US-based trade association representing leading plant-based brands, shared some data about how US restaurants are thinking about plant-based meat and plant-based dairy products and what their plans are for 2023.
The PBFA report, produced in partnership with Datassential, US restaurant industry menu database MenuTrends to gather data from a nationally representative sample of 4,800 US chains and independent restaurants. The report features some key data and insights. Below, we highlight what you need to know.
Close to two-thirds of fast-casual restaurants plan to offer plant-based menu items in 2023
Almost half (48.4%) of all restaurants currently offer plant-based alternatives. Trend-forward restaurants are most likely to offer plant-based options (64.7% fast-casual restaurants) with fine dining restaurants the least likely (31.6%) and QSR restaurants coming in at 41.8%. Since 2012, growth in plant-based food menu penetration across all operators stands at 62%.
‘Plant-based’ as a diet and menu descriptor is growing
In terms of menu descriptions and dietary terms, ‘plant-based’ as a descriptor has grown by 20% across national restaurants, compared to 7% for ‘vegetarian’ and 11% for ‘vegan’ over the past year. ‘Dairy-free’ is also up 20%. Over the past 4 years, ‘vegan’ is up 98%.
One-third of US consumers like/love plant-based foods
According to the survey, 28% of the US population has an affinity for plant-based foods (this is defined as consumers who love/like plant-based), with younger consumers (Gen X and Millenials), Asian and Black ethnicities, and fast-casual restaurant consumers especially likely to support these products.
Price and taste are still the biggest concerns for plant-based meat consumers
When polled about the concerns around eating less meat in restaurants versus eating more plants and plant-forward foods, 40% of consumers said they were worried about not being satisfied with the taste of the alternative meat, while 30% were concerned about paying too much for such dishes. Not getting enough protein (27%) and plant-based foods being too processed (18%)were much further down the list.
60% of restaurants operators see plant-based as a long-term trend
Four times as many operators plan to add plant-based to their menus over the next twelve months than those who said they would drop these products from their menus. 28% of operators plan to add more plant-based menu items (21% for QSR chains), while 29% said they don’t feature them at all and don’t plan to (46% for QSR). 7% said they plan to remove some or all from their menu (8% for QSR).
When asked whether plant-based meat substitutes were a long-term trend or a short-term fad, 60% of operators said long-term.
Plant-based meat burgers restaurant launches double that of whole veggie burgers
Despite the many headlines around the processed nature of plant-based burgers, the latter are expected to double their penetration on restaurant menus, compared to veggie burgers (defined by the survey as traditional plant-based burgers including black bean burgers, chickpea burgers and burgers from brands like Morningstar Farms and Boca).
Consumers are ready for other categories of plant-based like eggs and seafood
That being said, beyond burger patties, other plant-based food products and formats were highlighted as having strong YoY growth potential including plant-based crumbles (87%), seafood (57%), fish (44%), and eggs (52%), as consumers were getting used to burgers (14%) and sausages (24%).
Plant-based meat is doing well overseas
While no exact numbers were shared, PBFA noted that overseas markets have become a key focus for plant-based meat brands, highlighting Burger King’s plant-based menu across many European countries. The USDA’s Foreign Services Agency recently published a report directed at US plant-based brands calling for them to export to Germany where the plant-based foods category is popular and growing.
Plant-based dairy is showing strong growth across all types of products
Dairy-free menu offerings are up over 20% across all restaurant segments and 31% at fast-casual operators. Almond milk is the most popular alternative drinking milk offering on menus, with 3.6% penetration and 41% growth over the past four years. Oat milk comes in at 1.9%; the report notes that oat milk had almost no menu appearances four years ago but is now experiencing strong growth. Coconut milk is by far the most popular alternative milk for savory cooking applications (i.e. used in another dish like a curry). Plant-based cheese has 4.5% menu penetration across all restaurants, with a y-year growth of 110%; mozzarella is the most popular. The report suggests that there is a great deal of potential for this sub-sector.
Plant-based menu launches can offer restaurant menus ‘uniqueness’
The report says that while general monthly menu launches are almost back to pre-Covid levels, uniqueness ratings are declining so there is an opportunity for plant-based food to help operators get those numbers up. January and September are the most popular months for restaurants to launch limited-time plant-based menu offerings.