Fresh Food

Tips to Boost Appeal of Vegan Meals

Retail foodservice menus seek to satisfy customers’ plant-based cravings
Photograph courtesy of Longo’s

Plant-based foods have become so wildly popular that even foodservice operations with meat in their monikers, such as Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pollo Tropical, are embracing vegan and vegetarian menu options with gastronomic gusto.

Fast-casual Panera Bread of St. Louis recently pledged to make 50% of its menu vegan or vegetarian over the next several years, with a focus on whole, plant-based foods. Miami-based fast-food chain Pollo Tropical is moving beyond its Caribbean-inspired chicken dishes to offer a Vegan Tropichop and Wrap featuring a picadillo made with the plant-based Beyond Meat.

On-trend grocers are keeping pace with competitive channels by rolling out new plant-based offerings for all dayparts.

“Vegan ingredients are emerging to address the growing consumer demand for plant-based fare,” according to Technomic’s 2019 Retail Foodservice Consumer Trend Report, which points to retailers increasingly using Beyond Meat and Impossible brand components for burgers, sandwiches, tacos and other entrees that traditionally call for meat, as well as alternative eggs and more.

In September 2019, Gelson’s Markets of Encino, Calif., launched new recipes featuring plant-based meat in all 27 of its locations in Southern California. Gelson’s now offers plant-based burgers and vegan proteins in sandwiches and grab-and-go entrees, such as its Impossible Beef Rigatoni.

Technomic, WGB’s sister market research firm based in Chicago, further predicts that plant-based breakfast proteins, including egg alternatives, will appear on more retail foodservice morning menus in the form of plant-based breakfast bowls, sandwiches, burritos, tacos and wraps.

Whole Foods Market of Austin, Texas, recently struck a deal with San Francisco-based Just to put its vegan egg product in three vegan sandwiches on the breakfast menu at more than 60 stores in the southern Pacific region. Made with Just Egg, the sandwiches also feature plant-based meats, including Lightlife bacon and Gardein sausage, as well as a vegan cheddar from Good Planet.

“Our team has been working alongside Whole Foods’ culinary team for a number of years to update the store’s plant-based offerings,” says Dan Curtin, president of Greenleaf Foods, parent company of Lightlife and Field Roast Grain Meat Co., in Elmhurst, Ill. “We know their team encourages all stores to use the Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Strips Fakin’ Bacon in their TTLA (tempeh bacon, tomato, lettuce, avocado) sandwiches—which were a viral sensation when they launched—and we’re excited to see the recent inclusion of the tempeh on the hot bar with Just Egg in an exciting new plant-based breakfast offering.”

Greenleaf’s Lightlife and Field Roast products, which are available at retailers throughout North America, including Target, Kroger, Albertsons and Walmart, are experiencing growth, according to company officials.

“Year over year, we’ve seen a significant jump in demand of Greenleaf Foods’ brands—Lightlife and Field Roast—in the foodservice sector, and we expect this growth to hold steady through 2020,” Curtin said.

Flexitarians Flourish at Longo’s

From the bakery to its grab-and-go and heat-and-eat offerings, Longo Brothers Fruit Markets is one grocer leading the charge to mainstream vegan, vegetarian and plant-based menu items.

“At Longo’s, we know that veganism is beyond a trend, and it has made its way into mainstream, calling on all retailers to adapt their offerings. We offer vegan and vegetarian options for every meal occasion of the day,” says Joey Bernardo, senior director of merchandising (retail food services, bakery and deli) for the Vaughan, Ontario-based Longo’s.

“Growth in this category is undeniable. We have made it a priority to meet this growing demand by diversifying our offerings, widening our selections and partnering with category experts to bring us the best of the best,” Bernardo says.

Last year, Longo’s expanded its selection of plant-based dairy products and began retailing with category experts in plant-based products, including Beyond Meat. Its significant expansion of offerings throughout the store has been met with kudos from customers, according to Bernardo.

“Soaring curiosity means that plant-based options aren’t just for those who classify themselves as vegan or vegetarian either. As many as 86% of those who shop for plant-based ingredients, like almond milk and veggie burgers, do not classify themselves as vegan or vegetarian,” he says, citing a recent study. “This means that we are tasked with creating a retail experience that suits everyone’s unique preferences, and we are definitely up to that challenge.”

At each Longo’s location, the grocer prepares a daily rotating list of vegan and vegetarian options for its hot table and salad bar, as well as a number of vegetarian and vegan options—including its popular vegan lasagna, falafel bites, sweet potato sliders, risotto balls, plant-based quiche and salads—in its grab-and-go/heat-and-eat area.

Delivering restaurant-quality vegan fare is also part of the equation at Longo’s, which recently struck a deal with Toronto-based Fresh, a modern vegan and vegetarian eatery. Launching this spring, the unique collaboration will offer guests of Longo’s the opportunity to purchase some of Fresh’s most popular dishes in the grocer’s grab-and-go cases.

Longo’s is further poised to roll out numerous plant-based products for both snacks and lunch throughout its stores.

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