Vegan and vegetarian foods are almost a staple in major restaurants these days. That's a significant change from about 20 years ago, when dedicated non-meat eaters would be hard pressed to find anything beyond a dressed-up salad on the casual dining menu.
In fact, according to Statistica, 27 percent of Millennials who were surveyed in 2016 said having access to vegan food choices was important to them when it came to deciding where and what they wanted to eat. For Generation Xers, Baby Boomers and individuals older than 70 there was less emphasis on that priority (19, 13 and 12 percent, respectively), but having the option of "going vegan" has been a rising preference in recent years.
So it isn't a surprise that Beyond Meat, a true flagship of vegan cuisine, will soon be on the menu of a national restaurant chain. In September the brand's 6 oz burger was given a trial run at six TGI Fridays locations in the Boston, MA area. Beginning in 2018, TGI Fridays plans to introduce the veggie burger along side its "real" beef and turkey burgers. About 465 dining establishments under the TGI Fridays brands will feature the vegan look-alike.
And that's big news not just for dedicated vegans and vegetarians, but for gluten-free diners as well. While TGI Fridays is cautious to remind non-gluten diners that their restaurants aren't "a gluten-free environment" that can ensure against cross-contamination, the advent of a product that doesn't use wheat, soy or dairy is big news for a growing consumer base that does without the fillers that are often found in veggie burgers.
For TGI Fridays that move means more potential business. Like several mainstream restaurants, TGI Fridays has been experiencing declining sales over the past few years. The answer, says CEO John Antiocho, may be a solid remake of what eating at TGI Fridays is all about.
"When you look at the alternatives out there in the marketplace today and who's creating buzz and creating excitement, it's gone away from chain casual dining," Antiocho explained to Business Insider's writer Kate Taylor.
Restaurants like Applebees, Ruby Tuesdays and TGI Fridays are realizing that capturing the eye (or the taste bud) of today's consumer will take more than good home-cooked meals like Mom used to make and a comfy atmosphere. Diners want foods that align with their ethics and their eating habits (that includes their personal food restrictions) as much as their desire enjoy a different ambiance.
But can a vegan champion of 21st century plant-based technology actually sway hard-core meat eaters enough to stay on the menu? After all, TGI Friday's solid base is still nurtured from the conventional ethos that beef, turkey and other meats are not only good to eat, but the thing to eat when heading for the burger bar.
The answer to that question may be a little too early to tell. But Beyond Meat already has a few kudos under its belt: In September it entered into a partnership with Chef' d to include plant-based meal recipes in meal kits.
And its brand recognition is growing quickly. According to the manufacturer, ready-to-cook burgers and "meat" are now in about 4,000 stores across the country.
Of course, sizing up where the competition has gone tells a lot about where America's tastes are heading, as well. Impossible Foods, another developer of plant- and dairy-based foods has made its own segue into New York City restaurants. Its Impossible Burger is now featured on the Bareburger menu in limited restaurants.
But the real indicator that new and improved veggie burgers are gaining acceptance comes from Tyson Foods, which just this week upped its investment in Beyond Meat. The increase was announced as a result of Beyond Meat's recent fundraising, which pumped another $55 million into the venture. Other investors in the company include Bill Gates, Biz Stone and Evan Williams (Twitter founders) and Leonard DiCaprio.
Flickr image: Mike Mozart
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.