Are You Ready for the Rise in Plant-Based F&B?

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plant-basedPlant-based foods are increasingly making their ways onto meeting and event banquet event orders. Are you ready to switch out some meat and dairy for plant-based options?

According to research conducted by food services giant Aramark, the vegans and vegetarians who had been leading the demand for animal-free items over the last few decades are now being joined by a majority of all consumers in being interested in trying plant-forward options. And they expect them to be included in menu offerings — including at meetings and events — though added to, not to the exclusion of, meat and dairy.

In fact, 80% of respondents to the Aramark survey said they’d be willing to try even totally unfamiliar plant-based foods, mainly due to personal health reasons. And the younger your attendees, the more they’re interested in adding plant-based items to their diet: almost 70% of millennials say they want to eat a more plant-forward diet, followed by Gen Z at 65%, Gen X at 63% and Boomers+ at 52%.

Benjamin Davis, VP of Content at Plant Based World Expo

To learn more about the plant-based trend for meetings and events, Prevue recently caught up with Benjamin Davis, VP of Content at Plant Based World Expo. The Expo’s fall 2022 show at the Javitz Center in New York reflected that uptick in consumer and commercial interest in plant-based foods, with 3,722 attendees, a 20% increase in attendance over 2021. On display were a cornucopia of meeting and event menu possibilities, from mushroom-based meats, snacks and jerky to plant-based meats and seafoods to plant-based cheeses.

Prevue: Is demand for plant-based items on event menus really on the rise, or is it all just hype?
Davis: Studies continue to show that an increasingly large percentage of the population is identifying as “flexitarian,” i.e., choosing to intentionally replace meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives to some degree. Foodservice is among the fastest growing sectors for plant-based product innovation and food being served at events is likely to follow that trend.

As eaters experience an increase in options outside of events, they will expect to see those options increase within the walls of events they choose to attend. For vegans and vegetarians who used to have to settle for one lackluster “veggie” option at an event, there is now an expectation that there will be options to choose from and those options will be delicious and appetizing. Furthermore, events are high-energy environments where attendees are required to be energized and focused for long periods of time. Plant-based foods are proven to energize the body and mind, making events a great place to showcase menu items that enhance the experience for event-goers.

Prevue: What are some of the more popular plant-based menu items for events?
Davis: Let’s start at the coffee bar — a staple at events. Make sure you have the latest plant-based milk options. Oat and almond are a must, with some manufacturers making efforts to get the best creaming and frothing effects with specific “barista blends.”

At the café, bowls are a great option. Taco bowls, grain bowls, Asian rice or noodle bowls … these items are great because they are customizable and easily prepped, while using many ingredients that would already be on a traditional lunch menu. Think quinoa or rice with veggies, beans, salsa and guacamole — a satiating, energizing meal for a flexitarians and vegetarians alike.

For protein options, think about adding some seasoned tempeh or sliced seitan as a bowl topping or sandwich option, or my personal favorite, marinated mushrooms of different varieties which offer a delicious, juicy, meat-like mouthfeel while offering a myriad of health benefits. The solutions here may be simpler than you think, with many ingredients already existing in the kitchen and just needing that extra touch of culinary creativity to morph it into an appetizing menu option.

Prevue: Will demand for plant-based menu items at events continue to increase, or is this a trend that could fade over time?
Davis: As demand for plant-based items continues to increase in restaurants and cafeterias over the coming years, event menus are sure to follow suit. It is worth noting here that the fastest growing demographic for plant-based food adoption are millennials, Gen Z and their children. These are your event goers of the future. To cater appropriately to these next generations, events will need to impress attendees with a plethora of options that meet increasingly customized dining preferences and diet needs.

Events will need to “walk the walk” with their commitments to environmental health and sustainability, and their menus are a great place to start. Events even have the opportunity to educate attendees on why their menu choices are a reflection to their commitment to sustainability.

Food is a major emotional component of any human experience, so meeting the needs of this future generation of eaters will be key to securing happy, returning customers year after year.

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Healthy F&B: Do’s and Dont’s

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