- The first full week of 2022 has featured several plant-based menu launches across the restaurant industry. Chipotle announced its proprietary plant-based chorizo is now available at participating restaurants nationwide, while KFC's Beyond Fried Chicken, made in partnership with Beyond Meat, is now available across the U.S.
- Pizza chain Donatos, which has 377 locations in 22 states, also expanded its menu with a new plant-based pepperoni option made in partnership with Greenleaf Foods' Field Roast.
- The launches come as demand for plant-based diets increases. The global plant-based meat market is expected to expand by more than 20% per year through 2028, according to a December report from ResearchandMarkets.com.
These product launches are well-timed, as many consumers vow to eat better at the start of a new year and most consumers (70%) consider protein from plant sources to be healthiest, per International Food Information Council data. A survey conducted by YouGov shows that 32% of Americans plan to eat more plant-based/vegan food in the new year, and a record number of people pledged to go vegan in January as part of Veganuary.
In a statement, Carol Pasquariello, senior vice president of marketing at Donatos, said there isn't a better time to introduce the plant-based pepperoni product than the start of the new year, "when many people resolve to make smarter food choices."
Still, the fact that two out of three of these product rollouts are for a limited time only indicates the chains want these items to prove they're worthy of a permanent menu slot through consistent sales. Many restaurants are simplifying their menus to offset the pressure from high off-premise business and the ongoing labor shortage. According to the National Restaurant Association's annual survey of major trends, menu streamlining will likely continue through 2022.
While the addition of a new protein could add operational complexities in the kitchen, plant-based options may also drive frequency from those seeking to eat better, as well as new traffic from those who otherwise wouldn't consider, for example, a fried chicken brand.
In a new report called "Fake It Till You Make It: Plant-Based Meat Alternatives in Quick-Service Restaurants," Rabobank researcher JP Frossard said plant-based meat options can drive topline growth by expanding options to more consumers and attracting more diverse parties.
Right now, analysts seem optimistic about plant-based potential. Recent analysis from BTIG's Peter Saleh finds that McDonald's plant-based investments are exceeding expectations. Stephen Zagor, principal of Steve Zagor & Associates and assistant professor at Columbia Business School, predicts plant-based meat and vegetarian options will continue to grow until they're ubiquitous across the industry.
The current inflationary environment may also have something to do with increased demand for plant-based products across demographics. Beef prices are up 21% year-over-year, according to The Washington Post, while the index for meat and eggs in general is up by 13%. Higher prices have historically been a pain point for meat analogues, but these increases could bring the cost of plant-based options closer to parity with traditional proteins.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the duration of Donatos' plant-based pepperoni offering. The option is a permanent menu addition.