This major trend can drive guest traffic and loyalty.

Many of today’s diners are often issue-based. Lead largely by millennials and Gen-Z consumers, they want to eat at restaurants that offer foods that align with their own personal goals and sense of values, especially in the realms of health and environmental sustainability, reports the Washington Post.

One way this is playing out in the foodservice landscape is the tremendous rise in demand for plant-based proteins. Yet vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians—meat eaters who also try to eat plant-based foods for a portion of the week—are no longer satisfied eating at restaurants that only offer a few bland meatless options. It’s NO longer good enough to just have a salad, or to put vegetables on a piece of bread, and offer these up as your menu solutions for these consumers.  As these types of plant-forward lifestyles grow, restaurants can expect to see individuals spend more of their restaurant budget at brands that offer innovative dishes that blend the plant-based proteins that they want with the bold flavors they crave.

“Today’s consumers are looking for and choosing restaurants and locations that offer great-tasting plant based and veggie options, and these delicious menu items can take center stage on a menu or even be the entire basis for a restaurant concept,” says Matt Perry, Kellogg Vice President of Commercial and Custom Sales. “But as creative as the offering or menu execution may be, the most important thing to remember is, if the food doesn’t taste great, no one will eat it.”

In fact, taste is so important that despite the fact that many diners want to eat plant-based proteins for functional reasons, Mintel reports that 52 percent say that taste is the most important reason they like to eat these foods. This makes it crucial for restaurants to not only serve more plant-based proteins, but to make sure that the proteins and dishes they serve taste great.

One way to do that is to target the types of proteins that these diners already crave and avoid those that they don’t. While many meat analogues are emerging on the market, these lab-grown meat substitutes often contain non-vegetable fillers and may be off-putting to the growing population of guests that also tries to eat organically.

“We know through consumer research and global menu trends that consumers who are looking to increase plant-based proteins in their diet are looking for veggies and pulses, like lentils, soybeans and pinto beans, seeds, and nuts as protein alternatives,” Perry says. “In fact, away-from home consumers are most interested in these types of plant-based proteins and they are the more desired approach to reduce meat consumption.” In addition, the majority of plant-based protein products such as those offered by Morning Star Farms, also provide nutritional advantages on a per serving basis, around calories, fat content and protein, as compared to their meat analog competitors.

Working with vendor partners that understand what these target consumers want, and how to make the kinds of flavorful plant-based proteins guests desire, can help a restaurant not only get attention from customers, but also allows them to reduce labor strain in the kitchen for operators, via enhanced product form design, while speeding time-to-market for new product launches. “Restaurants should look to their brand partners for R&D and consumer insights,” Perry says. “While trends in functional benefits and formats inform our R&D process at MorningStar Farms, our team has figured out how to perfectly combine flavor, format and function to make plant-based foods meet how today’s consumers eat, while maximizing operational efficiency via form.”

Vendors that combine these proteins with hot flavor trends can help restaurants get ahead of the competition. MorningStar Farms uses chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America to create plant-based foods, and they pair this skill with market trends to come up with phenomenal dishes. Take the brand Gardenburger Roasted Garlic and Quinoa patty, for example. This dish is already a flavorful base, that easily could be paired with avocado lime mash, pickled red onions, and tomatillo corn Pico de Gallo to create Mexican Street Tacos, which could give a restaurant a unique selling point.

Because the plant-based food trend isn’t losing steam anytime soon, restaurants can feel confident that they can boost their appeal in diners’ minds by adding more flavorful plant-forward dishes. While embracing new menu trends such as this can be daunting from a research and labor perspective, a strong vendor partner can help with everything from ideas to execution, making it a breeze to continue growing the business.

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