June 17, 2023

The Rise of Plant-Based Fare

Increasingly, operators are recognizing the opportunity in offering plant-based options. C&U and K-12 dining halls are a natural place to begin, but even healthcare settings have made the jump.

Alt-meats are a potential area of focus as well, aiming to attract flexitarians with products that taste and look like meat but are more sustainable.

Variation in Preparation Styles

Dedicated stations at dining halls show a commitment to plant-based eating that doesn’t alienate carnivores. Gonzaga University in Spokane, for example, offers an all-vegan station called Zagriculture at its Cataldo Dining Hall and a slew of other options like vegan cheese pizza, black bean burgers and fresh steamed vegetables.

Fogo refreshes its spring menu with new plant-based offerings, including cauliflower steak and miso black bean pasta. Its Market Table, which features various salads and side dishes, has new items like baby kale and mango salad and Apple manchego salad.

Firms that transition to both Growth and Future Emergent quadrants demonstrate a form of organizational ambidexterity, exploiting existing capabilities while exploring future opportunities [56]. However, the exploration phase can lead to resource-intensive and risky investments, and a mismatch with consumer demand may undermine firm survival.

Weeds & Less Common Vegetables

Weeds are naturally strong competitors and take advantage of one of nature’s oldest laws: survival of the fittest. Fast-growing weeds crowd out slower-growing vegetable crops, reducing yields and lowering quality. Weeds can also harbor insect and disease organisms that attack vegetables and other crops, such as the carrot weevil, aphids, cabbage root maggots, squash leaf curl, and spotted wilt of tomatoes.

Regardless of whether they’re vegans, lacto-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, or flexitarians, consumers are gravitating toward plant-based cuisines. This shift is being fueled by the growing body of research showing that plant-based diets can improve health conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity.

Restaurants from upscale gastronomic destinations to collegiate dining halls are experimenting with new plant-based menu options. The University of North Texas’s Mean Greens cafeteria, for example, features a meat-free selection of dishes such as hummus and falafel. It has received praise from the campus and local community, including omnivore students. Those interested in starting their plant-based journey can start small by incorporating a plant-based meal three or four times per week.

Clean Labels

Clean label is a broad term that can defy firm definition. However, when it comes to preparing plant-based fare, it can be used to describe (re)formulation to reduce additives, preservatives, stabilizers and/or thickeners, as well as shorter ingredient lists that are closer to a homemade style of production.

Moreover, consumers are looking for ingredient decks that contain recognizable items they can find in their own kitchen pantries, says Dr Balanko. For example, Kashi’s fire roasted frozen quinoa bowls contain upwards of 20 ingredients—including carrageenan and sunflower lecithin—but they all are items most people have in their pantry.

This shift toward a cleaner ingredient list is especially important for C&U operators, who are seeing college-age diners move in a more plant-based direction. Further, flexitarian consumers and patients and staff in healthcare facilities also are making the switch to more vegetarian foods. Thus, it’s crucial that restaurants focus on transparency and clean labels to boost product sales.


For many diners, plant-based options are about more than just taste. The movement is driven by a desire for healthy lifestyles and an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

To that end, operators should consider how to communicate their products to entice consumers to try them. Using language such as "natural" evokes more appeal than simply "vegan," which can connote a sense of sacrifice or loss of flavor.

Some traditional dishes only need a slight tweak to make them plant-based. For example, egg substitutes such as flax meal, chia seeds and aquafaba (juice from canned chickpeas) can be used to create deliciously fluffy omelets or meringue.

Other menu items can be more of a challenge to transform into plant-based fare. However, the right recipes can be incredibly tasty. A mouthwatering cheeseburger can be recreated with meatless patties that look, taste and feel like the real thing — in fact, many carnivore-leaning consumers can’t tell the difference. Across the country, restaurants are expanding their plant-based offerings. Many are incorporating more vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian options in their C&U, K-12 and healthcare dining halls and food stations, as well as through catering services and popups.


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