How plant-based dining is fueling massive growth in the food industry

Supply chain shortages, surging meat prices, and a global pandemic that spread through a meat market—these events dominated headlines in 2020 and continue to shake the foodservice industry in 2021.

However, they also accelerated some massive consumer preference changes by driving up the demand for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. And if restaurants want to appeal to customers now and in the future, they’ll need to start thinking about plant-based alternatives as well. Their success could depend on it—pandemic or no.

Young people are turning toward plant-based (& away from meat) everywhere

Plant-based dining is on the rise—and not just in developed countries either. According to Elaine Siu, managing director of the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in demand for plant protein in both the US and China.

In an interview with Wunderman Thompson, Siu estimated that the plant-based movement,

is likely to continue to do well in 2020 and beyond because it is a lot less vulnerable to supply chain disruption and perishability. Consumers’ interests in alternative protein products have also grown during this time as they become more health-conscious and driven by crisis resilience.

In a 2020 survey of 4,500 teens and young adults in nine Asian countries, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence discovered that 56% of respondents have been trying to eat less meat. 70% of respondents also said they pay attention to food labels. Additionally, 60% of respondents reported that they try to eat only foods with natural ingredients.

Here’s what we can infer from those findings—a majority of customers intend to eat less meat in favor of plant-based alternatives. So, if restaurants (and the overall food industry) want to appeal to most of their customers, they need to create menus that include more plant-based food. And if businesses use food grown or raised with minimal processing or chemicals, then all the better.

Plant-based food is poised to grow even further

According to a recent Food Dive report, the retail sales of plant-based foods amounted to a whopping 7 billion dollars in 2020. That means a 27% increase in growth compared to the previous year, as reported by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association


That growth rate even outpaces organic produce—a rock star that grew by 14.2% in 2020.

Plant-based meat grew at an even more extreme rate, topping out at 1.4 billion in sales by the end of 2020. That’s a 45% increase over 2019. Refrigerated, plant-based meat sales grew even further. In 2020, sales in this category jumped by 75%.

Big corporations & investors are already betting on plant-based foods

As of now, Nestlé, Unilever, and Danone—some of the world’s largest food and beverage producers—all plan on incorporating more plant-based foods into their offerings in the coming years. The momentum is there.

And with 2.1 billion dollars of investors’ money flowing into developing plant-based foods in 2020, it looks like that momentum will only build in the coming years. In fact, UBS predicts that by 2030, the market for plant-based food will reach a value of $85 billion.

That’s significant. And it just goes to show that the demand is there.

So, will restaurants rise to meet it?

Why the road to recovery for restaurants needs to include plant-based foods

As the numbers demonstrate, consumers want plant-based alternatives more and more every day. Their shopping habits prove it. In all, 57% of households in the US purchased plant-based foods in 2020, representing a 53% increase from 2019.

For restaurants, this growing interest in plant-based eating represents a huge opportunity. Restaurants that provide meatless dishes or meat substitutes can attract increasingly health and environmentally conscious customers looking for meatless dining alternatives.

If customers are more likely to pay for meatless meals at the grocery store, it’s safe to say they’re likely to pay extra for meatless meals when they dine out and order in. Restaurants that understand this change in demand can tap into the same growth potential that skyrocketed demand for plant-based foods in 2020.

For many businesses emerging from the pandemic, meatless menu items provide one crucial piece in the road to recovery. In the end, only the future can prove that for sure. But if the past (2020) has anything to say about the future, then it looks like plant-based food has real potential worth tapping into for restaurants everywhere.

To bounce back fully in 2021, businesses will need more than just plant-based foods on their menus. They’ll also need an assortment of affordable, everyday foodservice products to keep their operations running and customers happy. That includes everything from tamper-evident labels and food prep stickers to first aid kits and register rolls.

To find the essential solutions that your restaurant needs for scaling up and making a full recovery, check out our foodservice essentials catalog.