60% of American restaurant operators see “plant-based” as a long-term trend

With one in three U.S. consumers saying they like/enjoy plant-based foods and restaurateurs are increasingly likely to add plant-based options to their menus, price and taste remain key considerations for diners.

During a January webinar titled “The State of Plant-Based Foods in Food Service,” the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), a US trade association representing leading plant-based brands, shared some data about U.S. restaurants, as well as plant-based meat and plant-based dairy products and their plans for 2023.

The PBFA report was produced in partnership with MenuTrends Datassential, a US restaurant industry menu database, to gather data from a nationally representative sample of 4,800 US chain and independent restaurants. The report contains some key data and insights.

Nearly two-thirds of fast-casual restaurants plan to offer plant-based menu items by 2023.
Almost half (48.4%) of restaurants currently offer plant-based meals. Cutting edge restaurants are the most likely to offer plant-based options (64.7%), fine dining restaurants are the least likely (31.6%), and chain restaurants account for 41.8%. Since 2012, there has been a 62% increase in plant-based menu penetration across all operators.

“Plant-based” is growing as a diet and menu highlight.
In terms of menu descriptions and dietary terms, “plant-based” as a keyword grew 20% in restaurants across the U.S., while “vegetarian” and “vegan” each increased only over the past year. 7% and 11%. “Dairy-free” also rose 20%. Plus, “vegan” has grown 98% over the past 4 years.

One-third of U.S. consumers prefer plant-based foods.
According to the survey, 28 percent of the U.S. population favors plant-based foods, with younger consumers (Gen X and Millennials), Asian and Black ethnicity, and fast-casual restaurant consumers particularly likely to support these products.

Price and taste are still the most concerned issues for consumers who love plant-based meat.
When surveyed about their concerns about eating less meat and more plant-based and plant-based foods in restaurants, 40% of consumers said they were concerned about the taste of plant-based meat, while 30% were concerned that it would be too expensive. Not getting enough protein (27%) and plant-based foods being overly processed (18%) came down the list.

60% of restaurateurs see plant-based as a long-term trend.
Four times as many restaurant operators plan to add plant-based products to their menus in the next 12 months than say they will remove them from their menus. 28% of operators plan to add more plant-based menu items (21% of chains), while 29% say they do not offer these menu items at all and have no plans (46% of chains). Seven percent said they planned to remove some or all plant-based meals from their menus (including chains at 8 percent).

When asked whether plant-based meat substitutes are a long-term trend or a short-term fad, 60% of operators said long-term.

Consumers are ready to buy plant-based foods in other categories, such as plant-based eggs and seafood.
In addition to the plant-based burger patty, other plant-based foods and formats were highlighted as having strong year-over-year growth potential, including plant-based ground meat (87%), seafood (57%), fish (44%) and eggs (52% ), as consumers get used to plant-based burgers (14%) and sausages (24%).

Plant-based dairy products are showing strong growth across all product types.
Dairy-free menu offerings increased by more than 20 percent in all food restaurants and by 31 percent in fast food restaurants. Almond milk is the most popular plant-based milk on menus, with a penetration rate of 3.6%, and has grown by 41% over the past four years. Oat milk penetration was 1.9%; the report noted that oat milk was barely on menus four years ago but is now growing strongly. Coconut milk is by far the most popular vegetable milk for culinary savory applications (i.e. for other dishes such as curries). The penetration rate of plant-based cheese in all restaurant menus is 4.5%, a year-on-year increase of 110%; among them, plant-based mozzarella cheese is the most popular. The report shows that this sub-sector has great potential.