Having run several restaurant companies that focus on healthy eating and with the current plant-based meat fad (yes, I think in general it is a fad, and I’ll explain later), I am often asked about my thoughts on plant-based meats and more specifically, what type of plant-based burger is best for their operation.
The begin, I ask two questions that are fundamental in finding the right solution. “Who are you targeting?” and “Are you replacing a current menu item?”
Who are you targeting?
There are two main groups to target by offering a plant-based burger on your menu – True Vegetarians/Vegans and Flexitarians. If your operation is just introducing a plant-based burger option, the answer to this question will determine if you should offer a plant-based meat burger or if you should offer a vegetable burger option.
Depending on the survey or poll, Vegetarians/Vegans represent 2-6% of the population. However, according to 2021 research commissioned by Sprouts Farmers Market and conducted by One Poll, nearly one in every two Americans consumes more plant-based meals than meat (i.e. a Flexitarian), with the flexitarian lifestyle proving more popular with Gen Z. Clearly, the bigger market opportunity is to offer a plant-based meat burger and appeal to the flexitarian.
Who has the best-in-class Plant-based Burger?
Nation’s Restaurant News is currently conducting a readers poll on “Which Plant-Based restaurant will be the first to go national?” And although this doesn’t answer the best-in-class question, respondents are very passionate about their choice. From a broader list, PLNT Burger and Nomoo are vying as the reader polls “most likely to go national first.” Additionally, BuzzFeed did a recent taste of - “All The Veggie Burgers From National Chains That We Could Get Our Hands On To Find Out Which Ones Are Worth It.” The PLNT Cheeseburger was rated 8 out of 10, the second highest score after the Impossible Whopper which was rated 9 out of 10.
What makes a great Plant-Based Meat Burger?
Interestingly, both PLNT Burger and Nomoo use Beyond Meat. And it appears from earlier articles that Nomoo switched from Impossible Foods. Please note, I am not endorsing one brand over the other, simply stating what I have found. With that said, there are some common themes with plant-based meat burgers.
The Burger Patty: Most restaurants are altering the plant-based meat to differentiate their burger. By way of blending the plant-based meat with vegetables, herbs, spices or other secret ingredients. Furthermore, most are making the patties thin. Think 5/1 or 6/1 patties versus a 2/1 or 3/1 patties.
The Burger Build: In almost all cases, restaurants are creating signature burgers, even with the common cheeseburger. For PLNT, the PLNT Cheeseburger has a Beyond Meat Patty, Caramelized Onion, Pickles, NewFields American Cheese, Green Leaf Lettuce, Roma, Tomato, PLNT Sauce, Potato Buen. For Nomoo, The NOMOO has a Brioche bun, nomon × Beyond Patty, nomoo sauce, American Cheeze, Pickles, Onion, Tomato, and Lettuce. Clearly a signature sauce and signature bun are must haves and having other unique ingredients such as caramelized onions, fried onion straws, smoked tempeh bacon or a different cheese like jack cheese will differentiate your burger.
Are you replacing a current vegetable-based burger?
If you are replacing a current vegetable-based burger, it is important to know who is buying this burger. Is it a flexitarian or a true vegetarian/vegan. If the latter, you will certainly alienate them and potentially lose this group as customers if you switch to a plant-based meat burger.
Numerous studies have shown that the demand for fake meats is almost entirely driven by meat eaters despite fake meat long being associated with vegetarians. And plant-based meat producers know this fact and realize the vegetarian and vegan aversion to eating animals means they're pretty weirded out by the hyper-realistic fake stuff too. Additionally in 2021 Food & Wine asked several longtime vegetarians what they thought about the plant-based meat boom. The common theme, these vegetarians agreed that more meatless options were only a good thing, but the idea of eating something that's formulated to taste more like meat was also off-putting. It's one thing if you swap your beef burger order for an Impossible/Beyond patty now and again; quite another if you long ago abandoned burgers altogether. Afterall, many vegetarians on the planet have been eating three meals a day without new advances in meat technology for years and they have already learned to live without meat.
Why I believe plant-based meat is a fad…
I do believe the demand for meat alternatives will continue, but the industry will not survive unless it continues researching a better product – focusing the needs on affordability and taste. Additionally, consumers are becoming more and more leery of the ingredients and the Orwellian technology used to produce some of these faux meats. I had the opportunity to try several faux meat products from chicken to beef to eggs to shrimp to poke-style tuna while attending the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago this year. Sadly, these products were disappointing in flavor and texture. And whether by chance or by luck, I had just sampled some amazing blue-fin tuna at one booth and then sampled the poke-style tuna at the next booth. The difference was night and day. I am truly supportive of finding necessary alternatives to meat for environmental and ethical reasons, and I realize you have to start somewhere, but we are not there yet.
If your company needs assistance in developing plant-based menu items for vegans, vegetarians or flexitarians let us know! We have an incredible network of talented chefs who specialize in each of these areas. Let’s Talk!
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