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Research is Telling Us: It's Time to Focus on Plant Power

Insights & Innovation |  9.4.2018

The food industry is a quickly-evolving one – with new trends popping up regularly and constant changes in consumer desires. One of the biggest shifts we have noticed over the last few years is an increased interest in what we call “plant-forward” options, meaning menus and dishes that emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts – but may still contain a proportionately small quantity of animal protein. An initial reaction to this increase could be to assume that it’s being driven by the rise in popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets. While vegans and vegetarians had been leading the demand for animal-free items over the last few decades, our research shows a majority of all consumers are interested in trying plant-forward options and expect them to be included in menu offerings.

To dig in and find out just how deep the roots of the plant-forward movement go, we conducted a proprietary study with an industry-leading food market research firm. We surveyed over 5,200 consumers to compare and contrast their attitudes toward increasing the availability of plant-based foods, their current practices, motivations, and decision drivers such as health and wellness, sustainability, and animal welfare, among other factors. 

Based on our insights, the majority of our consumers want to eat more plant-based foods, but they don’t necessarily want to eliminate meat from their diet. While some are open to going completely meatless 1 to 2 days a week, others would simply like to try some new dishes that are heavier on the veggies. While our menu-development process has always had a focus on health and wellness, plant-forward is now a key focus. No matter where consumers fall on the spectrum of trying plant-forward foods, we need to provide a range of high-quality and delicious options to make it easier for them to take a plant-forward adventure. 

80 percent

We all have that one family member who loves meat and would turn their nose up to the idea of never having it again. The great thing about a plant-forward mindset is that you don’t have to give up eating meat entirely. By focusing on plant-based foods at the center of your plate and only including proportionately small amounts of animal protein you can create a plant-forward meal.

As food trends ebb and flow over the years, generations grow up surrounded by varying options, developing different outlooks on food and nutrition as a whole. As disparate as the generations may be, they are all open to trying plant-forward meals, but Millennials outpace everyone else. In comparison, Boomers are the least interested, but because of health reasons and general aging, are open to it.

generational differences

Across the United States, appeal was more consistent than you may imagine. When you think of regional fare in the south for example, the first thing that comes to mind is likely not plant-based meals heavy on the fruits and veggies. But overall, consumers largely are ready for and interested in eating more plant-forward.

Universal Appeal

Whether dining at a workplace café, a university dining hall, or a healthcare facility, we found that consumers would opt for plant-forward options at least part of the time. Through surveying people across a variety of environments, we found that the higher education segment has the highest interest in plant-forward foods. It’s also interesting to note that a peak interest in plant-forward foods among college students is not just coming from the vegetarians and vegans on campus. While this doesn’t come as much of a surprise with Gen-Z, only having a salad bar and a veggie burger option simply won’t cut it anymore – today’s consumers are looking to fuel their lifestyle with veggies and variety.

how freqently would you choose

Going Plant-Forward in our Kitchens 

As we’ve talked about before, the Plant-Forward movement continues to stake its ground in the hearts and stomachs of many Americans with each fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain they consume, and it’s not just a passing fad. We’re encouraged by this focus on health and wellness and are in our third year of working together with the American Heart Association in communities across the country to improve the health of Americans 20% by 2020.

As consumers continue to embrace this style of eating we’ve stepped up to the plate and expanded our menu selections in collaboration with industry-leading partners to ensure we’re providing the choices that meet individual lifestyle and dietary preferences. 

  • 30% of the menu selections we serve are vegetarian or vegan across healthcare facilities, universities and corporations as part of our efforts  
  • We have educated over 200 chefs in a series of plant-based culinary workshop in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
  • To build consumer awareness, we've added an icon to to easily identify Plant-Forward menu items and educate guests through digital screens, posters and social media content.

No matter the type of location, the age of the consumers, or the region you operate in – keeping a finger on the pulse of consumer demand is essential to building menus that will keep them satisfied.

Related Content

  • Video – See one chef’s passion for preparing plant-forward food

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