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Pictured: Toasted Marinara Dip.

It seems everywhere one looks, a major player in the restaurant world is promoting a new plant-based protein LTO or menu fixture. In fact, Datassential reports that 12.7 percent of national restaurant chain menus now carry a plant-based protein item—and menu penetration of plant-based protein has grown 1,828 percent in the last four years.

Younger diners are primarily driving this increase. Independent operator surveys run by the CRC found 79 percent of Gen Z and Millennials say they order plant-based protein items on a regular basis. The flexitarian diet is also growing—Plant Based News reports that more than half of Gen Z and Millennials identify as such.

Plant-based protein seems to be here to stay. How can operators take advantage of the trend without overwhelming staff or sinking profits? Read on for some ideas.

Image credits:Red Gold

Plant-Based 3.0: The Next Generation of Plant-Based Protein

Pictured: Eggplant Parmesan Burger.

A few years ago, during the start of the plant-based protein revolution, many products were essentially one-for-one swaps for beef burgers. The movement then graduated into a second phase, where other proteins—from chicken, to pork, to seafood—suddenly had plant-based alternatives on the market. The flavor, texture, and craveability of the items have improved as well. There are now more ways to meet this moment than ever before.

David Halt, vice president of foodservice at Red Gold, says plant-based products are starting to enter a new and exciting third stage. Red Gold dubbed it “Plant-Based 3.0” when Red Gold released its first line of tomato sauce with plant-based proteins mixed in. The brand now offers Italian Sausage Style as well as Bolognese Style plant-based protein sauces.

“These products are filling a market-driven desire for plant-based protein options of the sort,” Halt says. “A Datassential survey found that the combination of prepared tomato sauce and plant-based alternatives has the potential to double the number of customers who try them.”

Image credits:Red Gold

Labor-Saving, Innovative, and Crowd-Pleasing

Pictured: Confit Fennel And Ricotta Pizza.

While consumer demand for plant-based protein is clear, restaurant operators may view the introduction of new SKUs as an operational burden.

That’s why, Halt says, Red Gold’s plant-based protein sauces are made to help operators meet the moment without increasing labor costs—especially crucial, since most restaurants still report being understaffed. The sauces are ready-made, versatile across dayparts and menu parts, and require little training or experience in the kitchen.

“These new items are the first of their kind to be offered in the foodservice industry,” Halt says. “Delicious and innovative, these sauces are easy to heat-and-serve, eliminating the time and labor to prepare a similar sauce from scratch. Using these items enables an operator to ‘check the box’ of offering plant-based protein items on their menu.”

As Halt points out, Red Gold’s plant-based protein sauces can be subbed for tomato sauce in any application—from classic, nostalgic recipes like Stuffed Peppers, to pizza toppings, to innovative menu items like Coconut Masala Cauliflower or an Eggplant Parmesan Burger for the flexitarian who loves global flavors.

Image credits:Red Gold

Command a Premium with Cost-Effective Measures

Pictured: Lasagna Rollup.

The plant-based protein sauces are also a boon to those looking to lower food costs with meat alternatives and increase profits. Red Gold has also found that the product is more cost-efficient than if operators were to procure similar ingredients themselves and add plant-based protein products to tomato sauce on their own—a half-cup serving of Red Gold’s new plant-based protein Italian Sausage Sauce runs at about 48 cents, while an operator making the same sauce would average about 60 cents per half-cup serving. And plant-based protein items command a premium—CRC’s independent operator surveys found the majority of those offering plant-based proteins are able to charge up to 20 percent more than they could for a non-plant-based menu item.

Halt refers to the line of sauces as a “natural line of extension” for the Red Gold brand. For more than half a century, the foodservice partner has prided itself on producing the “freshest, best-tasting tomato products in the world,” Halt says. When Red Gold identified that many of its foodservice clients were looking for ways to create delicious plant-based proteins for their customers, it tackled that demand.

“The ultimate goal we are working on here is seeing what our operators need and finding the solutions to help them make it happen,” Halt says.

For more on the plant-based protein sauces, visit the Red Gold website

Image credits:Red Gold