The Rise of Plant-Based Foods as a Millennial Menu Option
“PLANT-BASED FOODS” is a relatively new culinary term but one that’s likely to become increasingly familiar to all foodservice professionals. While vegetarians and vegans have been seeking more plant-based foodservice menu options for many years, more recently the category has expanded to encompass the ‘flexitarian’ – people seeking to exclude meat and/or animal products from their diet on an occasional basis, as opposed to those dedicated to eliminating them entirely.
“Australia is now the world’s third largest growing vegan market, and there are more than 2 million following a plant-based diet,” says Cameron Prowse, Business Development Manager, Away from Home for Life Health Foods, which is launching a range of foodservice plant-based solutions under brands including the Alternative Dairy Co and the Alternative Meat Co.
Cameron argues the move to plant-based meals is being driven by three factors – interest in nutrition and animal welfare, concern for environmental sustainability, and the greater engagement of millennials compared to previous generations. “We’re seeing the rise of flexitarians and ‘meat reducers’ – people eating a predominantly plant-based diet, but who don’t identify as vegan or vegetarian. Our research suggests they are motivated by health concerns – they may for example be trying to reduce their animal fat intake. The motivation for vegetarians and vegans tends to be more around ethical concerns which they’re passionate about. They’re happy to take that big step to eliminate meat entirely, which is a more dramatic choice.”
Having established a solid retail presence through its Veggie Delights brand, Life Health Foods is keen to tackle foodservice. “We’re making a real investment in new technology to deliver product whose packaging, serving sizes and cost per unit will be what the foodservice market is looking for,” Cameron says. “Professionals are seeking solutions and we need to partner with them and our distributors to bring that to market.”
Celebrity chef Simon Bryant of ABC TV’s The Cook and the Chef says consumer resistance to plant-based foods is a thing of the past. “We reached a tipping point about two years ago – consumers today are not so worried about food categories, the focus is more around taste, whether it’s good for you and environmental sustainability. If you ask someone what they had for dinner last night, they won’t say ‘Oh, we ate vegetarian’ – they’ll describe the meal. We’ve gone away from labels and it’s all just become food. A lot of chefs have helped with that process – consumers have been subverted from their old habits without their even noticing it. It’s a big shift.”
Simon offers this example to illustrate the widespread consumer acceptance of plant-based menu options: “I used to include an inordinate amount of vegan or vego dishes on the menu without calling them out as such, as I remember a big burly miner who ordered the eggplant parmigiana and called me over. He said he was originally going to complain because there was no meat in the dish, but when he started eating it he really liked it and next time he comes in he’ll order it again! So awareness and acceptance has been growing for some time now.”
Major food manufacturer Simplot Australia recently launched two plant-based foods brands, 100% Not Beef and 100% Not Chicken. “If you pick up any food mag of late, the rise of plant protein is always in the top 10 trends,” points out Simplot Australia Executive Chef David White. “Plant proteins tick the boxes for flexitarians as well as environmental sustainability. Of course what you want in a meat replacement is not only flavour but satiety – that’s the sense of being satisfied that you get from eating animal protein. This is the beauty of our 100% Not range - nine out of ten people won’t pick that they’re not beef or not chicken unless you tell them.”
David acknowledges that there is work to be done in educating the foodservice market due to the wide variance in quality of plant protein meat replacement products. “There have been products in the past with very grainy texture, which is not ideal, and once you’ve tried a bad product it will put you off trying another. So we need to take a
leading stance in communicating what are the key features that make up a better quality product.
“Flavour neutrality is a very important one. When you choose a plant protein in place of animal protein, for example in a Thai red curry or a casserole, the flavour needs to complement the other ingredients in the same way animal protein does. In other words, a good plant protein won’t detract from or alter the flavour that you want in the finished meal.”
He adds that because many chefs are nervous about using plant-based proteins in place of meat, 100% Not Beef and 100% Not Chicken are packaged using the IQF process. “This means you can use as little or as much as you want – try a little on the menu, keep the rest in the freezer until you can gauge the response from your customers.”
David also points out that these products are designed to emulate meat not only in flavour and performance but in texture. “We wanted to make sure we had a product that chefs can cook with just as they would any other protein. So if you’re making a stir fry, you can replace the beef with 100% Not Beef and it’s a 1:1 replacement. It caramelises like beef, it cooks like beef, so you don’t have to modify your recipe and it won’t change your flavour profile – you can do a straight swap of the ingredient, which makes it easy for the chef.
“It’s also a very clean label product – no emulsifiers, no binders, no flavourings or colourings and no added fat. The texture has been achieved by the production process, not through chemical additives. These are all important points for your customers looking to reduce their meat intake.”
Fran Harper, Global Head of Sales and Marketing for Paramount 21 which manufactures a range of vegetarian and vegan products, says the amount of marketing dollars which have been put behind plant-based alternatives have helped create a bigger market, along with the growing awareness of environmental sustainability issues among millennials.
“We started our vegan development about five years ago and we’ve been watching the trends very closely, and it’s clear that consumers are looking for products that will stand up alongside the more mainstream choices. In the past there were fairly limited vegan or vegetarian menu choices available, so our focus has been on developing innovative products that taste really good and present attractively. We supply a lot of the top hotels and the feedback from chefs is always that our products are really tasty.
“Our philosophy with presentation is to highlight the vegies – we use a lot of particulates, and we have very vibrant colours. If there’s a broad bean in there, we want people to see it. Our hero product is an aromatic garden burger which has won many awards and it’s vibrant green with a very rustic gluten free crumb. We have a range of arancini balls and luxury vegan burgers which are lentil-based and uncoated and again you can see everything that’s in them – they’re designed to look made from scratch. We also make a range of pre-portioned vegan meals which are also gluten, dairy and soy free – the aim is to make them tick as many boxes as possible, so chefs can pull them out whenever a customer has a particular dietary request.”