When diners hear the words “plant-based,” several things can come to mind: lack of flavor, non-filling, tasteless, and even negative textural qualities such as “spongy.” Those who prefer meat as the main attraction of each meal might even picture a bland, listless soy patty.
These preconceived notions are changing, however, as the food and beverage industries embrace innovation around one of the top growing culinary trends: plant-based eating.
Full disclosure—I know my way forward and backward around health food stores. For those of us with more nuanced experiences in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, the edible possibilities are endless. Did I grow up eating a vegetarian diet? Absolutely not! However, an introduction to fresh vegetables at a young age had its positive repercussions, and I now fully enjoy a giant fresh salad as an entrée, when given the opportunity.
With any newly introduced food, attributes such as taste, texture, and flavor are primary motivators for consumers when weighing their options. Plant-based proteins have evolved and now offer many contenders looking to grab the public’s attention, and the sources now range from legumes to nuts, mushrooms, and even algae.
Major brands such as Kraft Heinz and Campbell Soup are reformulating existing plant-based foods and searching for the next big player. Cheeses, deli slices, burgers, vegan seafood are all subject to the trend, as chefs and food scientists work to develop more viable options for those who want to reduce their consumption of animal protein.
As interest and access grow, consumers are realizing that plant-based diets have the potential to address numerous health concerns, and science is putting these claims to the test. Research challenging the notion that athletes need to eat meat and dairy to build muscle mass recently showed that plant-based proteins are just as effective. A vegetable-centered diet is also said to be associated with more positive mental wellbeing, though research is still being done to confirm the cumulative effects.
Of course, ordering a bag of vegetarian Impossible Sliders from White Castle might not get you closer to the weight or health goals you have in mind, although it could lead to other dietary changes, and may suit your taste buds just fine. Big picture-wise, it will lead to more mainstream appeal for convenient plant-based options.
The takeaway here is the impact consumers can have when it comes to changing traditional eating patterns. It wasn’t that long ago that ordering a vegetarian meal meant winding up with a salad or a grilled cheese, but increased demand for plant-based options has changed that.
Odds are good that the options will only get better.