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From the Editor’s Desk: Plant-based is here to stay


December 23, 2019
By Colleen Cross


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Plant-based foods are something pizzerias and restaurants need to learn about, explore in the kitchen and consider for their menus.

I attended the first Global Summit Plant-Powered Menus in November and gained a new perspective on this trend. I wanted to see what the experts were saying about the demand for plant-based foods, what impact it will have on restaurants and foodservice and what products were out there.

If you’re not sure what the plant-based trend means for you as a pizzeria – or if it even applies to you – a dose of reality may be needed. I talked with Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice for Mintel and a featured speaker at the event. Topper gave me some straight talk about why it’s important for restaurant operators to adapt their operations to appeal to customers following a plant-based diet.

The demand is there, she said, citing Mintel’s findings that 22 per cent of diners are trying to eat less meat. What’s more, almost half of Canadian consumers agree, “I plan to start eating more plant-based
alternatives.”

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“Flexitarians and curious consumers represent a sizeable opportunity as they are open to trying more plant-based options on menus,” Topper said.

Her advice: “Operators across segments should appeal to these diners with familiar and proprietary menu items diners can’t find anywhere else.”

Generally speaking, two choices for restaurants emerged at the conference: either go all-in with plant-based (and internalize the philosophy) or add a unique dish to your menu. Simply creating plant-based versions of popular menu items may not be a good route for your brand, some speakers said. There are three reasons for this: One, it may devalue the original dish. Two, it risks alienating your regular customers. And three, it’s not very practical to reinvent so many carefully developed pizzas and menu items.

Typically, the focus of the marketing has been on the health benefits of a plant-based diet. But speakers at the conference overwhelmingly agreed the focus should now be on taste.

I learned plant-based is a trend and a philosophy that is steadily growing. For restaurants, it could have effects beyond pushing operators to rethink their menus. For example, a representative from the BC Restaurant & Food Services in attendance said this trend was having an unexpected effect of attracting more young staff to restaurants.

This is a very interesting development for an industry that is starved for talented and reliable staff.

On the event’s trade show floor, I saw products to suit any step toward plant-based food you decide to take: alternative cheeses, protein-packed flours, plant-based pastas, prepackaged items for added sales at the counter, and nutrition-packed additives for bread and product development. Watch for more coverage of this event in January.

Clearly, education and moderation are important. As renowned chef Massimo Capra suggests in our interview in this issue: “You need to offer the public a little bit of what they want and a little bit of what you want to give them. People who want to learn something can learn; people who just want to eat, they come in to eat.”