Why more plant-based options are sprouting up on mainstream menus
Curry Up Now offers plant-based chicken as a protein option in its burritos.
Plant-based diets are gaining popularity around the world, a fact that mainstream fast casual restaurant brands aren't ignoring. In fact, a report from Baum + Whiteman called "plant-based" the food trend of 2018. Nestlé named plant-based foods as one of its top 6 trends of the year, saying that 87 percent of Americans consume plant protein, for example, and nearly two-thirds do so at least once a week.
While salad concepts and a few veggie-centric brands are sought out because of their focus on plant-based menus, the trend has also made its way onto the menus of more mainstream brands. Fatburger, The Counter and Wahlburgers, for example, are now serving the Impossible Burger made from wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and an ingredient called heme. Heme is a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it's abundant in meat, according to Impossible Burger.
"I knew from the moment we debuted the Impossible Burger patty in Los Angeles that this was going to do well with our customers — it quickly became one of our best-selling items," Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of Fatburger's parent company, FAT Brands. "There's no doubt our customers will always love 100 percent beef Fatburgers, but we're hoping to engage both old and new fans alike with a top-notch meat-free option."
How about chicken?
But meatless burgers aren't the only protein option these days. Curry Up Now, a fast casual concept serving Indian flavors and cuisine, has embraced meatless chicken by adding Hungry Planet's plant-based chicken protein at all six Bay Area locations. The plant protein chicken is made of wheat and soy protein and does not include any trans fat, hormones, antibiotics or cholesterol, Akash Kapoor, CEO of Curry Up Now, told FastCasual.
"Ever since we launched Curry Up Now in 2009, we've been friendly toward vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets," he said. "Paneer and Aloo Gobi are already popular proteins, so those made it on our menu right away; however, as more and more innovative plant-based proteins were introduced, we knew we wanted to add one to our menu."
The Hungry Planet plant protein fits the concept well, Kapoor said, as it's not only good for guests, but it's also good for the planet.
"After much R&D, we decided to replace our tofu protein with The Hungry Planet plant protein, and since doing so, it has done as well as the tofu — if not better," he said.
It's available on a variety of Curry Up Now menu items, including burritos, thali platters, deconstructed samosa and kathi rolls. The brand is the first restaurant in the Bay Area, and one of the first in the country, to offer the plant-based protein. It certainly won't be the last, according to a variety of reports predicting the rise of plants.
GrubHub, for example, reported that U.S. orders for plant-based food are higher than ever, and the food manufacturer, Neilson, reported that the plant-based food sector was valued in August 2017 at $5 billion.
"Faux meat has come a long way in terms of both innovation and consumer acceptance, with meatless, 'bleeding' burgers and lab-grown chicken found on menus and in grocery store aisles across the country," said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. "The majority of consumers look for plant-based proteins in meat, cheese and milk, which suggests that alternative meats and dairy products will find appeal, resulting in increased consumption."
Justin Rosenberg, CEO and founder of honeygrow and minigrown — sister fast casuals that specialize in fresh noodles and greens — would agree. He came up with the idea for honeygrow while following a plant-based diet.
"I was cooking more at home and really enjoying the meals I was crafting for myself and my family," he said in an interview with FastCasual. "I realized that there weren't enough vegetable-forward fast casual concepts that catered to every day eating."
Business has been good for Rosenberg— he's opening a new minigrow location in Chicago next week and is rolling out a new vegan kale kimchi."
"We're finding that demand for vegan and plant-based offerings continues to rise," he said.
Companies: Hungry Planet
Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.www