Vegetarian entrées are the sixth most popular food category in Canadian foodservice, outselling Asian cuisine, and beef and pork dishes. Yet, this segment still has opportunity for growth. A new poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society shows one-third of Canadians are vegetarian or are eating less meat. This rise of plant-based diets can be attributed to several factors, including health concerns with our aging population, trends towards local ingredient sourcing and increased awareness of environmental considerations.
These attitudes, coupled with the 30% increase in beef prices over the past two years, present an opportunity for the foodservice industry. Considering the large number of veggie lovers, restaurants have been tasked with creating tantalizing dishes that focus primarily – if not solely – on vegetables. Simply put, removing meat from a dish will no longer satisfy the vegetarian palate.
Foodservice professionals have kept up with these Canadians’ vegetable cravings, and their menus reflect it. According to Technomic, the number of vegetable-centric dishes on Canadian menus increased by 15% between 2012 and 2014. Much of this change can be attributed to the spike in plant-based proteins (think tofu, quinoa, nuts and nut butters) which saw a 60% increase in menu mentions during the same time period.
By diminishing meat’s share of plate – or removing it entirely – chefs will find cost savings and more plate space to experiment upon. There are many ways to get creative, including implementing root-to-stem preparation methods akin to the nose-to-tail dining trend of carnivores. This cooking style focuses on making the most out of each part of the plant to gain its maximum nutritional benefits while reducing food waste. For example, you can braise the tops of carrots or use them as a garnish, and broccoli leaves can be made into a pesto.
Beyond taste, diners that opt for meatless meals can reap many health benefits. As a protein source, peanuts top all other nuts, and are chockfull of fibre, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. Two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one-quarter cup of peanuts, is considered by Canada’s Food Guide to be a serving of a meat alternative. For those experimenting with pulses, chickpeas and lentils give your meals a similar protein boost at lower cost per serving than meat.
As vegetables continue to gain share of plate, foodservice professionals can cater to consumers’ desires for nutritious, sustainable and cost-efficient alternatives to the traditional “meat and potatoes” dinner.