The plant-based lifestyle has the potential to reshape the food industry as we know it.

With plant-based food businesses, festivals, and pop-ups booming, it’s clear that veganism is becoming a global phenomenon. Over the last five years, people have started to make more informed food choices, driven by a growing awareness of the impacts of animal agriculture on climate change, health, and animal welfare. Not surprisingly, food chains are rising up to meet this demand: Wagamama has a new vegan menu, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, and Zizzi all offer vegan pizzas, and Guinness recently changed its traditional non-vegan brewing process.

The average U.S. citizen consumed 12.2 percent less meat and poultry in 2012 than they did in 2007, and since then the trend has continued to get momentum. So what does the shift toward vegan eating mean for your food business?

Will vegetables replace meat?

We are on the precipice of an era where vegetables are set to overtake meat as the primary component of our daily meals, driven by scientific research, animal and environmental activists, progressive chefs, and more informed consumers. Until relatively recently, vegetables have traditionally been presented as the ‘less fun’ part of a meal—even now, only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits or vegetables. From both a health and environmental perspective, too much meat and not enough veg is bad news.

Conscientious millennials are the ones leading the charge, caring deeply about health and environmental sustainability. Some believe it won’t be long until vegetables overtake meat as the core of the American diet, providing a better and more ethical alternative to the mass breeding and slaughter of millions of animals.

More choice gives food businesses a broader appeal

When groups are looking for somewhere to eat together, they will seek out a place that caters to everyone’s dietary needs. With an increasing number of vegans and vegetarians out there, restaurants whose menus lack plant-based diversity will soon find that they are passed over for more vegan-friendly competitors. If you want to keep young people coming through your doors, making sure you have a range of tasty vegan options is a real must.

Some vegans refuse to eat in restaurants that serve any meat at all. Choosing to tailor your menu entirely for vegans and vegetarians is a decision that rests on your brand and target audience—if you’re a steakhouse, for example, you may find that your existing clientele do not appreciate the switch. But generally speaking, choice is a good thing, and will enable you to cater to a wider range of individuals. Because who in the group dictates where to eat? It’s probably the vegan.

Not sure where to start? Here are 7 Ways to Veganize Your Menu.

Face it—plant-based eating is here to stay

Much of the world is now trending towards a plant-based diet. It’s important for any business to be aware of trends and shifts in the industry—and veganism is a significant shift alright. According to a report by GlobalData, there’s been a 600 percent increase in the number of vegans in the US in the last three years alone. And not only that, we’re now seeing mainstream health organizations like Kaiser Permanente recommending plant-based diets.

This is about so much more than just whacking a couple of veggie options on the menu. It’s time to think seriously about your brand image and what the next generation of compassionate and eco-conscious consumers expect. Is it time to make a few creative tweaks, or go for the full overhaul?

Creativity will be key to success

Vegans are only human—none of us wants to miss out on all the good stuff we used to eat before we become aware of its far-reaching impacts. Recently there has been extraordinary growth and remarkable improvement in the quality of vegan food options available. This growth will only continue as long as people keep educating themselves about food.

There are two things that crop up a lot when vegans talk about what they miss—creamy chocolate desserts and cheese. Until just a few years ago, the vegan alternatives were pretty average. But now, they’re so good that many people can’t even tell the difference. The vegan chocolate industry is storming ahead and vegans are more inundated with choice than ever before.

The companies that do best out of veganism will be those that are constantly innovating; who build a reputation for themselves as creative plant-based foodmakers who are always ready to tackle the next delicious animal-free alternative.

What about online food businesses?

It’s not just restaurants that need to think about the shift to vegan eating. As more people embrace a plant-based way of life, vegan snack boxes, vending machines, and niche ecommerce stores are popping up everywhere. Food startups would be wise to engage with vegan communities online, since vegans often take advice on where to shop and eat based on the recommendations of others. Vegan restaurants (or those with options) should add themselves to the HappyCow directory—an app that helps those following plant-based diets find places to eat.

NotDogs is a vegetarian fast-food brand that’s gaining ground in the U.K. Through their online shop they’ve diversified into selling vegan and animal rights merchandise, as well as offering advice and support. Meanwhile, the Superfood Grocer is “changing the game while being rooted in goodness,” selling dairy-free ice creams, jackfruit ribs, protein powders, vegan granola, etc. Making an online store can be a great way for food businesses to branch out and sell not just in person, but to a whole connected vegan community online.

In summary, restaurant and food business owners should think carefully about what they can do to appeal to a broader range of customers—namely, the growing population of vegetarians and vegans. The plant-based lifestyle has the potential to reshape the food industry as well know it, as more people try to eat healthily and make conscious food choices. The question is: what are you doing to secure your piece of the sweet potato pie?

Expert Takes, Feature