Amid a Growing Appetite for Plant-Based Foods, Is Your Brand Staying Current?

Food Business News featured a headline story in December of 2019 that read, “Trend of the Year: Plant Based Foods.” As we hit the middle of 2020 it looks as though the upward trend will continue. By all measures, though, it’s more than that. It really is a lifestyle, and it seems that everyone is jumping on the plant-based food train. The question your business should ask itself is; will your brand be a part of this health- and planet-friendly movement?

Consumption and demand for plant-based foods is growing

Plant-based food options are increasing not only in grocery stores, but in fast-food and fast-casual franchise restaurants. According to The Good Food Institute (GFI), 58 chain restaurants offered at least one plant-based food option on the menu in 2019. In addition, GFI reports that sales of plant-based foods are still climbing rapidly. Its data revealed purchases increased 11 percent in 2019 and 29 percent over the last two years.

GFI also reports that sales of plant-based meats from U.S. food distributors to food service companies (which includes restaurants, corporate lunchrooms, college campus dining halls and other dining operations) increased 37 percent in 2019.

If you want to appeal to the millennial or Gen Z consumers (who make up over 30 percent of the U.S. population) you will definitely want to consider adding plant-based food choices to your franchise menu. How big is consumer demand? According to the Plant Based Food Association:

  • One third of Americans are actively reducing their meat and dairy intake
  • 79% of millennials (aged 24-38) surveyed already eat plant-based meals[Nm1] 
  • 30% of millennials surveyed want to eat more plant-based foods
  • 79% of Gen Z[Nm2] ers (aged four-24) surveyed eat plant-based meals one to two times a week
  • 60% of Gen Zers surveyed want to eat more plant-based foods

Consumer demand isn’t a vegan or vegetarian thing

According to a study by NPD Group, 95 percent of people who ordered plant-based burgers in 2019 were not vegans or vegetarians. These consumers purchased 228 million servings of plant-based burgers in 2019, up 10 percent from 2018, while beef burger purchases remained flat.

People who identify as vegan comprised one percent of the population in 2014, and about six percent in 2017, an increase of 600 percent. While vegans and vegetarians are fueling some of the increase in plant-based food demand, it’s obviously something the general public is interested in too.

The reasons people want to eat more plant-based meals are varied. Consumers who don’t want to eat animals are looking for protein options, folks who have high cholesterol or have heart issues are also looking for healthier meat alternatives, and people who want to reduce their impact on the environment by reducing their meat consumption are all part of the emerging plant-based food market.  But whatever the motivation, you do not want to miss out on reaching this new breed of consumer.

Adding plant-based options will increase your profits

Smart brands are making profits by listening to consumers and taking action. In the New York Post, a Burger King spokeswoman said the plant-based Impossible Whopper was “one of the most successful product launches in brand history, leading to outstanding comparable sales of positive five percent” in the period of one quarter. Burger King and White Castle were two of the early adopters, and success stories, in the U.S. plant-based fast food burger launch.

Brands that didn’t join in right away watched others enjoy early financial and business successes and have since decided to give it a try.  In 2019, according to Business Insider, top chains offering plant-based options included Taco Bell, Hard Rock Café, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, Carl’s Junior, Blaze Pizza, Dunkin’, Hardees and  Denny’s and other chains are in talks about adding to their menus.

But the bottom line for a franchise restaurant is profitability, and according to some in the food industry, plant-based meats are a win-win for both consumers and the restaurant. Profit margins can be much higher with some plant-based menu items, because the product costs less for the restaurant to purchase than animal meat products. For the consumer, some of the cost savings can be passed on, and as an added benefit they will get a healthier meal.

Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in B2B and franchising. Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR, champions franchisors that cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. For additional information, visit or


 [Nm1]Ages of Gen Z and millennials is different depending on the organization’s definition

 [Nm2]Gen Zers seemed to be what the dictionary uses and weirdly Gen Z is capitalized and millennial is not

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