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    Plant-Forward Food Takes Root

    Meat continues to be optional for more consumers, food producers

    The business of going meat-free is booming. The New York Times reports that a new trade organization, Plant Based Foods Association, was formed earlier in 2016 to represent makers of proteins derived from peas, soybeans and other nonmeat sources. Members include Tofurky, New Wave Foods, and startups that make plant-based “milks” and “cheese.”

    Sales of products incorporating plant proteins grew 8.7 percent over 2014 and 2015 through retailers not including Whole Foods, according to The New York Times. That compares with 3.7 percent growth for all food, reports SPINS, which collects data on retail sales for the natural and specialty products industries.

    Chicago-based Mintel sees health and wellness as a huge driving force behind the demand for meatless dining, noting in its 2016 Foodservice Trend Report that “many consumers believe they are doing their body a favor when they refrain from meat.” According to Mintel research, 17 percent of consumers agree that they eat meat-free dishes when they want to eat more health-minded meals. The percentage increases to more than one-quarter (27 percent) for older millennials specifically.

    While a 2012 Gallup poll found that only 5 percent of the population identified as vegetarian and 2 percent as vegan, the number of consumers who occasionally eat meat-free suggests that providing more plant-based foods is good for everyone.

    “Ten years ago, vegetable-based dishes and meals were directed at vegetarians and vegans only. Now the most sought-after tables are in vegetable-heavy restaurants, and the buzzwords are roasted cauliflowers, chia seeds and pickled radishes. Everyone wants these dishes,” says Gary Patterson, executive chef and manager, culinary science for Sparks, Md.-based McCormick & Co. Inc.

    Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

    • More meat-free proteins and dairy-free cheese at the salad bar and deli counter
    • Meatless entrees on the menu all the time, not just as specials
    • Grain-and-lentil combinations for complete, meat-free meals

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