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Bayer AgVocacy: Consumers pushing beef off plate for veggies

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A steakhouse with more emphasis on veggies and less on the beef, a lab-grown veggie burger on every menu, and a vegan station in every college dining hall … No this isn’t some fairy tale we made up but some of the latest food trends hitting the market.

These are some of the dining trends we can be expecting according to three out of the four panelists that spoke during “A New Marketplace: Unlikely Agents of Change in the Food Space” at the Bayer AgVocacy Forum Sunday in Anaheim, California.

“A large portion of the restaurant consuming population is shifting from meat protein to vegetables and vegetables are in fact pushing meat protein to the side of the plate and sometimes off the edge,” said Michael Whiteman, President of Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants.

Whiteman said if you look at the fast-casual industry, which is the only segment that is growing, you will find the big players are only focused on vegetables.

“They are playing into a consumer concern about the level of trust specifically in the creation and the health value of animal protein and they are gravitating more and more to vegetables,” Whiteman said. “It doesn’t mean that they are stopping eating meat, but are reducing the amount of meat.”

In fact, Whiteman is pushing a client in New York to open a steakhouse which primarily focuses on veggies. Why? Whiteman said it’s in response to consumer demand and is part of the marketing. It’s also to ensure the restaurant doesn’t get squashed by a vegan vote.

“It only takes one out of a party of six to kill a restaurant,” Whiteman said.

Cherryh Cansler, Editor of Fast Casual, agrees and says now consumers are looking for a healthy option everywhere they dine.

“Consumers want the healthy options at every single place they are at, even if it is McDonald’s,” Cansler said.

While Whiteman said this trend is stemming from urban, wealthier consumers, Connie Diekman is seeing some of these food trends trickling onto college campuses with students requesting more vegetable and vegan options. The Director of Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis said the campus now offers Beyond Burger, a plant-based burger, and is considering adding a dining location with just plant-based protein options.

Diekman said the Gen Z group is also embracing more local foods rather than organic.

“We really don’t put organic first and our students are very comfortable with that,” Diekman said.

Another trend is clean food, which Diekman said is a confusing marketing tactic.

“We can’t say all food is clean. If it was dirty you wouldn’t want to eat it anyway. Why do we believe one fast casual saying ‘food as it should be’ – isn’t all food as it should be?” Diekman said. “There is no legal definition for clean. In our world, if food isn’t clean we don’t eat it. But that’s not what clean means to our students.”

The fourth panelist, Juan Sabater, a California tomato grower, understands consumer demand. He started growing brussel sprouts two years ago when the interest in super foods peaked. But Sabater also shakes his head at some of the demands consumers are now asking for in their food supply. As Sabater points out people want clean food, but the most toxic items in their households are cleaning supplies.

“Consumers have this idea — I want everything, I want it cheap, I want it all year round, like talking local,” Sabater said. “There is a season for everything.”

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