Plant-based foods are the hot topic in the food and beverage industry. It’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing about these foods in the media as innovative products are introduced each year. Long gone are the days when these products were relegated to vegans and vegetarians and often criticized for their taste. One thing is clear as meat-eaters start adopting plant-based foods – they’re not abandoning meat. What’s behind the new acceptance among omnivores?

First and foremost, taste is king in this industry. Attributes such as health and convenience go far to drive consumption, but if the flavor profile falls below consumers’ expectations, then the product will likely have a short run. Traditional veggie burgers did not taste like meat and didn’t attract meat-loving burger consumers until companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat discovered how to make vegetables reproduce the meat-eating experience. Now there is no compromise when choosing a vegetable-based burger.

It doesn’t stop there. Looking at the evolution of snack foods, we see the merging of sensibility and indulgence. Our Future of Snacking report analyzes the motivations driving snack food consumption from the past and present and uses those trends to forecast future motivations. Two prevailing macro needs that will drive snack food consumption in the coming years will be health and treating/rewarding oneself. Products delivering on both at the same time are poised to grow.

It’s possible we’re seeing the same merging of needs when it comes to plant-based foods. Looking specifically at burgers, plant-based versions provide the same “burger experience,” but restaurant orders of plant-based burgers are rarely tied to health. Consumers can use these burgers to assuage concerns about animal welfare, environmental sustainability, nutrition, and more. At the same time, they’re eating a product with a flavor profile that delivers on their expectations. It’s a conscience-satisfying choice with the “treat” experience of eating a burger.

The plant-based burger seems to be picking up steam. SupplyTrack®, which tracks the sale of foods and beverages through broadline distributors to restaurants, shows a nearly 30 percent increase in plant-based burger sales in 2018. Servings of veggie burgers ordered at U.S. restaurants reached 342 million in the year ending March 2019, an 8 percent increase from year ago, shown by our foodservice consumer tracker, CREST®. With large chains like Burger King and White Castle now offering their own plant-based burgers, it’s safe to say this has become mainstream.

It’s worth noting that plant-based foods are no longer just about almond milk and veggie burgers. Across categories such as yogurt, cheese, snack foods, and other milk varieties, plant-based foods are making inroads. This could not have happened until the plant-based alternatives were able to deliver on flavor.

We’re monitoring U.S. consumers’ use of plant-based foods both in-home and away. Contact to learn more.