Is the mainstreaming of veganism a threat to your brand?


by Cherryh Cansler, Fast Casual

Jan. 3, 2019


Although vegans and vegetarians are still in the minority compared to meat eaters, they're coming in hot. Sales of plant-based meat in the United States, for example, increased by 24 percent over the previous year, and plant-based food sales overall rose 20 percent over the previous year to more than $3.3 billion, according to a study conducted by the Plant Based Foods Association and Nielsen.


"The biggest threat to the popularity of burger and chicken is the trend of consumers cutting back on eating meat, " Trish Caddy, Mintel Foodservice Analyst, said in her latest report, "Burger and Chicken Restaurants — UK — September 2018." "This is being driven by younger millennials who have either adopted a full-time vegan lifestyle or are simply eating more plant-based dishes. Operators now need to tackle this issue by offering consumers more varied choice, including vegan burgers.”


That's because customers are seeking out restaurants that offer not only vegetarian foods but also vegan options, which differ from vegetarian foods in that they contain no meat products, such as dairy foods, eggs or any other animal-derived items. Google searches for the word, "vegan" quadrupled between 2012 and 2017, with it now getting nearly three times more interest than vegetarian and gluten-free searches, according to the Vegan Society. Forbes predicted more people than ever will embrace a plant-based lifestyle this year, and The Economist called 2019 the "Year of the vegan," pointing out that 25 percent of Americans 25-to-34 years old identified as vegan or vegetarian and that U.S. sales of vegan foods rose 10 times faster from January to June 2018 than food sales as a whole.


Customer demand means operators are pursuing more meatless alternatives, Christina Donahue of Dining Alliance, which reported that orders for meat substitutes among its members increased 28.4 in 2018 over 2017.


"What’s more, operators may seize on the opportunity to price these products at a premium, allowing for greater profitability," she said in an interview with FastCasual.


Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley is happy to be in the veggie business. His California-based, veggie-only concept is experiencing sales growth from both new guests wanting to try plant-based food as well as existing guests wanting to try more creative offerings.


"Gluten-free demand is picking up, and plant-based protein substitutes coming to market are generating interest from non-vegan guests," he said in an interview with "Vegan desserts and ice cream are generating high interest as well."


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