From Fine Dining to Fast Food: Where Plant-Based Food is Going in 2022
As meat-eating consumers continue to show interest in vegan foods, the retail and restaurant industries aren't missing a beat.
Did you know plant-based food is going to be really big next year?
Okay, you probably did. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years, you must have seen the writing on the wall: vegan options are popping up everywhere, from quick service restaurants to your local grocery store. The most interesting part is that it’s not just the (still tiny) vegan segment of the population that’s growing; “regular,” meat-eating people are also paying attention to the relationship between animal products and their health, as well as the health of the planet.
To my mind, that’s a great thing. I’ve always championed the idea that lots of people making little steps will have a greater impact than a few people making big steps in terms of Earth-friendly food and other lifestyle choices. Now, it’s undeniable that there’s money in them thar plants: in retail alone, plant-based food made up $7 billion in sales last year. Plant-based meat sales grew 45% between 2019 and 2020, and plant-based milk sales are growing four times as fast in 2020 as they did in 2019, according to data released by The Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association.
Looking forward to 2022, all different sectors of the global food industry are planning to serve a population that’s cutting back – though not entirely eliminating – animal products from their diet.
Heard of Reducetarianism?
In their trend reports looking ahead to next year, both the UK-based supermarket chain Waitrose and US-based Whole Foods independently identified a reduction of animal products as a trend we should expect to see more of. Veganism as a lifestyle is still intimidating and challenging for many people, be it due to financial or geographical constraints or simply preference and habit. But even so, consumers are looking to consume fewer animal products, and to choose more consciously when they do. Per Waitrose, shoppers are moving towards eating meat only about two days per week. We’re way past Meatless Mondays – think Meatless Weekdays altogether.
Plant-based food is becoming more and more widely available, serving a population that is increasingly concerned with the future of the planet as well as their own health. Suffice it to say, vegetarian and vegan eating aren’t the hippie-dippy niche they once were.
Fine dining sans animals...
For generations, fine dining has meant white tablecloth restaurants serving expertly prepared food, made almost invariably with meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Vegan and even vegetarian food, written off as fringe or novelty cuisine, haven’t really been considered among this ilk – until lately. Eleven Madison Park made a splash this summer when it reopened as an entirely vegan establishment. Though the reviews haven’t been entirely glowing, EMP certainly has the attention of the foodie world and has sparked conversations about the role plant-based menus could serve in high-echelon restaurants. Long-standing plant-forward institutions like Kajitsu and Dirt Candy are getting renewed consideration, and it only seems like a natural next step for chefs and critics alike to continue their dive into veggie-filled waters. I’m expecting to see more famous chefs dabbling in vegan cuisine, more high-end veggie-focused restaurants opening up, and maybe even some Michelin stars being awarded to vegetarian kitchens.
...And plant-based fast food, too
Meanwhile, at the other end of the dining spectrum, things are changing even more rapidly. In the last year alone, chains like Long John Silver’s, Panda Express, and Little Caesar’s have made their first steps into the vegan arena by partnering with plant meat brands like Field Roast and Beyond Meat. They’re joining the ranks of other fast food chains, like Burger King and White Castle, who have been serving plant-based options for the last few years and continue to do so. And roundly, these risks have paid off in a business sense, even despite the hit the pandemic has dealt to quick-service restaurants. I wouldn’t expect this trend to die down any time soon – if anything, it’s still building momentum.
If a trend is happening broadly and consistently, as the move toward more plant-forward eating has been for the last several years, “trend” no longer seems like the right term. Across industries, there is rapid movement toward "reducetarian" and vegan-minded eating thanks to a populace that’s becoming increasingly informed about animal agriculture and food systems in general – likely accelerated in part by pandemic-related supply chain issues that have led many of us to think twice about where our food comes from and how it gets to us. The truth about industrial animal agriculture and its connection to the environment, human health, and animal welfare may be inconvenient, but the future of food seems to be abundantly plant-based – and delicious.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor