Exploring the Rise in Vegetarian Demand

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Given the relatively flat traffic patterns at commercial foodservice over the last decade, it’s no surprise operators are increasingly looking for ways to innovate and expand their menu offerings. While proteins have traditionally held a prominent place on most QSR menus, more operators are launching vegetarian offerings in an attempt to cater to health-conscious consumers.

Case in point — this summer, A&W launched its Beyond Meat burger in restaurants across Canada. The burger features a patty made of pulse crops, including peas and mung beans. Restaurant consumers hungry for vegetarian options were quick to take advantage of the offering and, within weeks, the company announced it was temporarily sold out of the Beyond Meat burgers.

This begs the question: just how much demand is there for vegetarian options at foodservice?

According to recent research by The NPD Group, when asked which flavours or characteristics consumers would like to see offered more often in restaurant meals, 11 per cent of Canadian respondents said they would like to see vegetarian options. Consumer demand for vegetarian options on restaurant menus is down slightly on the year and has been relatively flat over the past five years.

Furthermore, the percentage of menu items described as being vegetarian or vegan has been relatively unchanged during that timeframe. And, while A&W’s Beyond Meat launch clearly highlights a gap in the market, demand for vegetarian options still ranks low compared to other flavours and food characteristics.

While vegetarian sandwich/burger servings is higher in Canada compared to 2014, the category only represents three per cent of total burger and chicken-sandwich servings in commercial foodservice.

Interestingly, consumers are increasingly looking for healthy alternatives at foodservice. That said, vegetarian options may attract the health-conscious consumer who isn’t necessarily looking for a meatless option, but simply wants a menu item that’s fresh and healthy.

For now, it’s worth keeping an eye on this emerging trend to see just how successful products such as the Beyond Meat burger are in the long run.

Written by Robert Carter

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