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Plant-based pointers: Q-and-A with Amanda Topper from Mintel

Q-and-A with Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research for Mintel


March 4, 2020
By Colleen Cross


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To better understand where opportunities are for Canadian pizzerias, Canadian Pizza spoke with Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research for market research firm Mintel, a panellist at the recent Global Summit Plant Powered Menus.

Amanda Topper is the associate director of foodservice research for market research firm Mintel.

Why is it important for restaurant operators to adapt their operations to appeal to customers following a plant-based diet?

The demand is there: Twenty-two per cent of diners are trying to eat less meat. Nearly one in six are ordering more plant-based menu items than last year. Forty-eight per cent of Canadian consumers agree: “I plan to start eating more plant-based alternatives.”

Flexitarians and curious consumers represent a sizeable opportunity as they are open to trying more plant-based options. Operators across segments should appeal to these diners with familiar and proprietary menu items diners can’t find anywhere else.

What are some of the reasons people follow a plant-based diet?

Almost 30 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they are trying to introduce more plant-based foods into their diet. Canadians who avoid animal proteins do this for a variety of health, ethical and environmental reasons.

What is the biggest trend in behaviour you’re seeing at the moment among restaurant-goers?

An overall sense of curiosity. Burger King’s Impossible Whopper launch led to a five per cent sales increase, so it’s bringing in customers and bringing back customers who had stopped visiting. More and more operators are offering Beyond Meat or Impossible Burgers and putting them on the menu in various ways that are piquing consumers’ interest.

Is that a change from last year, or from five years ago?

Meat substitutes on U.S. menus grew 36 per cent from the first quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2019. Strong and steady growth has continued since the third quarter of 2018. The majority of growth is being driven by quickservice and fine dining restaurants. Several major quickservice chains have invested in meat substitutes menu items, including the Impossible Burger at White Castle.

Do people following plant-based diets prefer food that mimic the taste or texture of meat or a vegetarian diet?

Sixty-three per cent of Canadian consumers agree meat alternatives should closely mimic the taste of meat.

Is there an area of menu restaurant operators should focus on when looking to attract plant-based diners?

We suggest restaurants try to offer familiar foods in familiar formats. Burgers are the main menu item that has performed well. We are also seeing traction in pizza and ice cream. The fastest-growing dishes featuring meat substitutes are entrée combinations, wraps and pizza.

Are pizza businesses at an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to meeting this demand?

Diners are going to be more likely to try plant-based foods in a familiar format like pizza. Pizza has the advantage of allowing for customization; for example, through plant-based sausage or a veggie-forward pizza; veggie crusts such as cauliflower or sweet potato; vegan cheeses; and other plant-based meat alternatives.

Customers are more disposed than ever to try plant-based pizza options:

  • 17 per cent of consumers who have had pizza from a restaurant in the past three months find veggie crusts appealing.
  • 56 per cent agree pizza is becoming healthier than it used to be.
  • 52 per cent agree pizza fits into a balanced diet.
  • Diners are attracted to plant-based items for their perceived health benefits but they also like to indulge. Taste is paramount.

This interview has been edited and condensed.