Are Plant-Based Proteins the Way Forward?

As society evolves, the restaurant industry must evolve alongside it. In its current state, we’re seeing more restaurants offering plant-based proteins to consumers looking to either change their diets, align their dining options with their ethical values, or just try something new. This presents an interesting situation for some restaurants, as there are a number of variables in play that determine whether this is a viable course of action to take.

The first variable to take into account is consumer demand. Is there a large enough demand to not only make it worth developing menu items based around these alternative proteins, but enough so that with competition you’ll still be able to turn a profit. If the demand for such a product exists, but not enough to use the levels of inventory required, any unused inventory will spoil, leading to a potentially catastrophic loss. Before any other planning takes place, such as building out recipes, to working out your food costing and prices, you need to start by taking a deep dive into your market to find out what is driving them to purchase plant-based proteins, what their price sensitivity is, and the likelihood that they would buy from you. Once the overall demand is determined, you’ll want to do a competitor analysis to find out if any of your competitors are offering plant-based proteins. Is the number of offerings by competitors too high? Then it may not be worth your while unless you can provide unique dishes and a quality that goes above and beyond your competitors.

Avocado Toast

The second variable is quality. This quality exists in two forms for our purposes, those of the protein itself, and those of the dishes created with it. If the raw protein lacks the quality to be used in dishes, and does not stand up to the quality expected of your restaurant, then you should not attempt to make it fit for the sake of having it on your menu. By doing so, you stand to make a dish that comes off as disingenuous and can ultimately give you a negative image. This quality of the raw protein extends to the longevity of it. Quality ingredients should be able to last; however, you may need to reorganize your storage spaces to make space for this new set of ingredients, which will ultimately change your workflows and day-to-day operations.

This brings us the area of expertise for Optimum Control: inventory management. For some restaurants, inventory management may be the tipping point for surviving, and adding a new protein to store and manage may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You need to consider questions like “How much do I have on hand?”, “How much should I order?”, and “How much can I physically store and make space for?” These  are important questions to consider, as they can drastically change your operations from a chef’s workflow, to a manager’s counting procedure. By moving storage locations, everyone has to adapt quickly in order to minimize the impact on service. Knowing how much to order, and when to order, can eventually be worked down to a science; but, in the beginning, having restaurant inventory management software like Optimum Control can make the process less of a chore, especially with a product that is relatively unknown to you, and moving forward, can allow you to save time and focus on other pressing matters.

One of those pressing matters is pricing. While Optimum Control has built-in tools to help you with your recipe and food costing, you will ultimately set the prices for customers. These prices will need to strike a balance, they need to be profitable, yet affordable. Your market research and competitor analysis will give you an idea on what the market will bear when it comes to plant-based proteins. In many cases, consumers are willing to pay more for these proteins, as they align with their ethical values. This being said, there is a point where you will encounter price resistance, whether that be due to the nature of the dish, or of the existing prices of dishes in your restaurant. Price these dishes too far out of your existing price range, and customers will have a harder time attempting to rationalize them, even if it aligns with their ethical values.Plants in Cups

Our final point brings us to the impact of ethical values when it comes to the decision of incorporating plant-based proteins on your menu. Unlike the other variables, this one is especially unique with regard to non-meat proteins, as it can be a decisive factor when it comes to a customer choosing to dine with you, as it’s an immensely personal decision. If you’re going to include plant-based proteins, and state your ethical reasons behind it, it needs to be genuine, and make sense. A steakhouse offering plant-based proteins and providing ethical reasons for doing so comes off as disingenuous, and exploitative. 

With these variables all coming into play, do we believe that plant-based proteins are the future? That remains to be seen. Many fast-food establishments have tried them, and removed them without any mention of a return. While we do believe that they may have some place in the future, the key variables right now that are holding them back are the price, quality, and ethical values. Many organizations have met resistance when it comes to introducing plant-based proteins, believing they’re only doing it because it’s the popular thing to do. In addition to this, the perceived health benefits were not as people made them out to be, and on top of this, the quality did not match the prices that were attached to them. This leads us to believe that while there may be a place for plant-based proteins to take a much larger piece of the pie, an improved product must be attained, along with economies of scale in order to bring the prices down for restaurants, and ultimately consumers.