Swiss chef Daniel Humm recently tweeted about the long-awaited reopening of his renowned New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park in June. The surprise came in the detail. “When Eleven Madison Park reopens in June, Daniel Humm will introduce a plant-based, meat-free menu,” the tweet read. But is this announcement really surprising?
There has been an accelerating trend towards plant-based diets over the last few years. The Smart Protein Plant-based Food Sector Report, based on scanning data from Nielsen MarketTrack, looks at 11 European countries over the past three years, and represents the biggest and most accurate overview of plant-based consumer habits to date. The report shows that consumption of plant-based products has grown by 49% across Europe since 2018.
Old ingredients, new ways
Such a figure is a clarion call to chefs and operators that they need to seriously consider taking steps to cater to this market. A call that Daniel Humm, for one, has heeded and embraced. On the Eleven Madison Park website he says: “It was clear that after everything we all experienced this past year, we couldn’t open the same restaurant. “With that in mind, I’m excited to share that we’ve made the decision to serve a plant-based menu in which we do not use any animal products — every dish is made from vegetables, both from the earth and the sea, as well as fruits, legumes, fungi, grains, and so much more. “We’ve been working tirelessly to immerse ourselves in this cuisine. It’s been an incredible journey, a time of so much learning. We are continuing to work with local farms that we have deep connections to, and with ingredients known to us, but we have found new ways to prepare them and to bring them to life.” According to the Nielsen survey, global players such as Unilever and IKEA are also pivoting towards the plant-based market. Unilever has set a target of deriving $1.2bn global sales from plant-based meat and dairy within the next five to seven years. Meanwhile, IKEA aims to make 50% if its restaurant meals plant-based by 2025.
At the end of April in Singapore two Swiss companies – flavor and fragrance maker Givaudan, and plant equipment manufacturer Buhler – launched an Apac (Asia-Pacific) Protein Innovation Centre. It aims to create and develop plant-based food that caters to the Asian palate. The area seems to be growing hub for meat alternatives after global food ingredient and flavor supplier ADM also recently launched its new plant-based innovation laboratory in Singapore’s Biopolis biotech hub.
The Nielsen report identifies the UK as the biggest market in Europe for plant-based meat products, with sales of €502m, a growth of 36% since 2018. However, the news in May about a dip in the share price of Beyond Meat, the Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded in 2009, begs the question: is this trend sustainable or is it a passing fad?
All about the experience
Mark Dempsey global consulting director at data analytics and consulting firm GlobalData is positive that plant-based foods are a sustainable trend. He sees it as a long-term consumer trend for the foreseeable future for three reasons. The first reason is ethics. Consumers want to do better by the world and their community. Second, it ties in with the consumer trend towards flexitarianism. The availability of vegan, meat-free options supports even non-vegans in their choices. Third is the consumer desire for health and wellness options. Plant-based foods offer a healthier alternative to meat products and are now better that 20 years ago where the emphasis was on soy-based products that tried to replicate and replace meat. GlobalData analysis shows that ethics is 42% more important than four years ago, while health is now 76% more important to consumers than it was four years ago. “Now, it’s not all about nuggets that look like chicken; it’s about creating its own experience,” he says. “The plant-based industry in the foodservice world now is less focused upon offering a non-meat copycat, more focused on creating something new, an experience around vegetable and plants.” Dempsey also explains that having great plant-based options is a great way to make your brand stand out. “In a crowded high street, if you are the coffee shop offering the pure vegan experience it will differentiate you from the chain players.”
Foodservice consultant Chris Stern FCSI managing director of Stern Consultancy in the UK would advise clients to cater to this market. “We always recommend clients review the menus proposed by their caterer to ensure a good balance of meat, fish and vegetarian food so that every customer can make their own choice,” he says. “They should expect their caterer to offer delicious choices in every category so they can appeal to carnivores, vegetarians, vegans and those who like a mix. Helping people work with their preferences is also necessary, so clear and attractive information/labeling is essential. For the food at work market, ensuring the caterer is using technology to help not only those interested in a plant-based menu, but also those concerned about nutrient content and any other type of preference should be adopted.” The consensus seems to be that the plant-based eating is something that is being embraced around the world. However, for many communities globally plant-based eating is a way of life rather than a lifestyle choice. “The arguments for a more plant-based diet are clear and many people are prioritizing eating less meat.” Stern says. “We seem to be moving away from the need to label ourselves one thing or another and are being as flexible as we always have been in our diets but are exercising our learnings about what is good for us and the planet. I suspect that were the research to cover less sophisticated societies, where just getting enough to eat is the priority, the only reason there would be more plant-based food would be because it is more readily available and affordable.”