A new study released today by Changing Tastes, Plant Forward: A Decade On, finds that a significant share of American diners are interested in eating less red meat and they want to do so by eating smaller servings, not eating it less often. The report examines how consumers eat today, how they’d like to eat in the near future, and what they would like to see on restaurant menus with respect to meat, poultry, fish and plant-based choices.

Plant Forward: A Decade On brings together two years of research by Changing Tastes and Datassential conducted to help foodservice companies and culinary professionals understand the changes in diner preferences over the past ten years and since the Plant Forward concept was launched by founder Arlin Wasserman at a culinary competition at the James Beard House in recognition of Earth Day 2009.

The study finds that 16 percent of adults who considers themselves meat eaters would like to change how they eat in the future. The top choices for doing so are to eat smaller portions or to eat fish and seafood instead. Antibiotic use and animal welfare conditions are the most significant concerns that consumers have about eating meat, fish and poultry. But relatively few diners consider themselves vegan or vegetarians or want to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Rather, diners favor humanely and sustainably raised meat, poultry and seafood even as they also seek smaller portions and want to eat meat as often as they have been.

“Plant Forward was created a decade ago as a simple culinary strategy to help big foodservice companies address two problems:  how do we reduce our carbon footprint and address climate change, and how can we afford to serve humanely and sustainably raised meat? The answer to both is by slightly reducing portion size,” said Arlin Wasserman, partner at Changing Tastes. “Shifting the portion of meat and plant-based ingredients on the plate seemed easier to get a lot of people to eat a bit less meat rather than to convince even a small share to eat vegetarian meals.”

Steve Petusevsky, culinary strategist and author of the Whole Foods Market Cookbook says, “Plant Forward is the next chapter in a decade’s long evolution in healthy cooking and conscious cuisine that originated with health foods. Americans are now embracing a style of eating and cooking which echo ancient culinary traditions that have developed over centuries in many other parts of the world. We are now at a most exciting time in American cuisine, which creative chefs have embraced and  continue to explore with vigor and passion.”

As a part of the research, the firms also asked consumers how much meat they wanted in a sample dish. While nearly 25 percent wanted a quarter pound of meat, more than half preferred one or two ounces combined with vegetables, grains, lentils and beans. The preference for smaller portions of meat was consistent across gender and age.

Wasserman says, “What we’re seeing is a new bargain with a significant share of the dining public. They want to keep eating meat, just in smaller portions that are humanely raised and antibiotic free, when they eat out. With smaller portions, we can afford to serve them what they want. It’s what the Plant Forward strategy is designed to achieve.”

The study also finds that most diners do not eat vegetarian meals in restaurants and prefer to do so at home. However, those who are interested in eating plant-based meals are much more interested in scratch cooked dishes. Diners by about 2:1 favor scratch cooked vegetarian options over processed meat replacements when eating out and also would rather eat them at home.

The study is available here.

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