Plant-based eating is mainstreaming, so how can you profit from it?

By Jo-Ann McArthur

Plant-based eating is mainstreaming, and it’s not hippies who are setting the agenda. Instead, Nourish Food Marketing’s 2018 Nourish Trend Report found that the average, non-vegetarian consumer is driving growth. Restaurants have historically introduced the trends and patterns that later manifest themselves throughout the food ecosystem, but this is one area where most restaurants are falling behind.

Consumers are increasingly swapping animal-based products out of their diets for plant-based substitutes, like switching mushrooms for beef. Others are part-time vegetarians, going meat-free before 6 p.m. The growing number of  “flexitarians” is leading to declining meat consumption, so how can you tweak your menu to keep up with the times?

Flexitarianism: what is it and what does it mean for your business?

A third of the population classifies themselves as flexitarians. They occasionally substitute meat for plant-based food, and almost half of them say they plan to eat more plant-based food in the year ahead. Citing concerns about animal welfare, millennial customers are pushing the trend with levels of vegetarianism and veganism that are double that of the general population. Not to be left out, boomers are also making the change for health reasons. (We plan on living forever!)

Big Meat is stepping up

Reacting to these developments, “Big Meat” is stepping up its involvement in the vegetable protein market. Maple Leaf Foods recently purchased plant-based protein companies Field Roast and Lightlife Foods, broadening and future-proofing its status as a leading consumer protein company. Tyson Foods raised its stake in Beyond Meat, which makes the pea protein-based Beyond Burger, and Cargill and Nestlé are investing in plant-based and cultured proteins as well. This level of market presence will give plant-based products a big push towards mass market acceptance.

Where’s The Beef?

In a recent study, American food marketing firm Datassential found that the definition of how we eat is more fluid than ever. In a survey of 1,500 cross-generational consumers, retailers and foodservice operators, just over half (51 per cent) claimed to be interested in meat blended with grains and vegetables. They want to preserve taste, reduce negatives like fat and cholesterol, and increase positive attributes like fibre and vitamins. It sounds like a tall order, but this can be a win-win. Food service operators can please these customers with a healthier blended burger that also reduces food input costs.

Sonic Burger’s meat-and-mushroom Slinger Burger does just that. Not to be outdone, Fatburger and Wahlburgers are now serving the Impossible Burger, the plant-based burger that “bleeds” due to plant-sourced heme, an ingredient found in almost all living things. While these products won’t necessarily appeal to hardcore vegetarians, they do make plant-based eating more enjoyable and tasty for the average customer.

Don’t skip the protein

Gone are the days when pasta primavera was considered a viable vegetarian option. Regardless of age, getting enough protein at every meal continues to be a customer focus, and there’s no excuse not to include it: those beautiful plant-based grain bowls can be just as Instagrammable as your signature dishes.

Fine-dining restaurants can capitalize on flexitarianism by having a “Meatless Monday” entrée. Research shows that consumers are more likely to try a vegetarian meal when dining out, due to their own lack of confidence in cooking these foods at home. Since fish tends to be a poor choice on a Monday, give your customers something they’ll thank you for.

Need an added incentive to diversify? More vegetarian options can help you cast a wider net by appealing to halal customers who might otherwise give your restaurant a pass. So embrace flexitarianism. It’s a trend that offers you an opportunity to broaden your customer base, lower the impact on the planet and increase your profit margins. That should make it easy to support!


About the author: Jo-Ann McArthur is the President and Founding Partner of Nourish Food Marketing, a marketing agency that specializes in Food and Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Jo-Ann can be contacted at, or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at:

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