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Defining Plant-Based Proteins

Consumers and industry professionals are calling on the FDA to more closely regulate plant-based options

By Sarah Ann Noel - December 5, 2018


"Plant based proteins are being utilized in nearly every mid-scale to up-scale and family restaurant. Independent restaurants and chains alike are listening to the consumer's needs, wants and desires for alternative plant based protein options," says National Restaurant Consultant's Denver-based senior consultant, Richard Weil.

According to Nation's Restaurant News, our consultants are right in line with this trend. "Nearly 40 percent of Americans are 'actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets,' [says] a report by consumer and market research firm Nielsen, and 23 percent wanted to see more plant-based proteins." (Demand for Plant-Based Protein Beefs up by Bret Thorn)

With almost half of the population turning toward plant-based food items for at least a portion of their diets, phrases like "veggie burger" or "coconut milk" or "almond ricotta cheese" are becoming more and more commonplace. Because of this, the outcry from industry professionals and some consumers is, are these phrases accurate?

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently released a statement at the Politico Pro Summit saying, “Plant-based milk products like almond milk, soy milk, and even their less-hyped cousin tiger-nut milk, will no longer be able to market themselves as 'milk',” reasoning that "an almond doesn't lactate."

A lot of this regulation around alternative milks is driven by the dairy industry, which has seen it's animal milk sales decline while nut-milk sales are on the rise. But according to National Milk Producers Federation spokesperson Chris Galen, it's not only a business concern, rather "the word 'milk' is being used as a marketing phrase when it’s in fact defined by the FDA according to scientific criteria that nuts simply can’t fulfill.” This refers to the FDA regulation that now to be termed "milk" a product must contain lactose.

And what does all of this mean for the restaurant industry? 

"Chefs and restauranteurs must keep in mind the most important thing is to meet the basic marketing needs of the consumers," Weil says. "The demand [for plant-based proteins] is evidenced by the huge growth of many plant-based producing food companies."  

This is becoming increasinly true of not just milk substitutes, but also options for meat replacement.  

Weil says, "Three years ago, large food distributors may have carried a meatless burger or hot dog at less than 5-10 items in their inventory. Today multiples of products are now warehoused."

While FDA compliance is an industry essential, so is meeting the needs of consumers and restaurant guests. With FDA regulations built around these new vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options, it's not a matter of whether or not to offer them. The advice there is clear: Your restaurant should cater to these needs. Meeting new regulations will instead be a matter of marketing and menu development. 

"The bottom line as always is to remain at the top of the mind of all guests when they choose where to spend their dining dollars. Having alternative plant based protein items on your menu can not only stimulate sales to increase customers, but most importantly retain customers as well," says Weil.

Our restaurant consultants are experts in menu development and incorporating top food trends. Make sure that your menu is meeting the needs of both your guests and the FDA requirements. Contact a consultant today for help with your menu. 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash