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Sarah Hutcherson headshot

The Rise of Flexitarians: Plant-Based Foods Top GrubHub's List of Delivery Favorites

Plant-based foods were a top choice for late-night munchies in the U.S. last year, as more and more people shift toward a flexitarian diet.
Plant-Based Foods

Plant-based foods are here to stay, if GrubHub's latest Year in Food report is any indication. Seven of the top 10 orders placed on GrubHub in 2019 were vegetarian-friendly, compared to just three the year before. The Impossible Burger joined the late-night delivery top five list, while pizza with a cauliflower-based crust was ranked the top order of the year. So, what does GrubHub’s report tell us about the plant-based food movement at large? 

The popularity of plant-based foods can be traced to the rise of flexitarians, people who eat mostly vegetarian but occasionally eat meat and other animal products. While the vast majority of Americans don’t identify as vegans or vegetarians — the percentage of vegetarians was the same in 2018 as it was in 2012, according to Gallup polling — most are willing to try plant-based foods and eat less meat.

As of May 20191 in 5 Americans identified as flexitarian. Around 13 percent of Generation Z and 10 percent of Generation X eat flexitarian diets, compared to just 6 percent of baby boomers, according another 2019 report. 

One of the most well-known plant-based protein companies, Impossible Foods, has noted that most of its consumers are flexitarians. More than 90 percent of Impossible Foods consumers eat meat at least once per month, the company estimates in its latest impact report.

Curiosity and taste are behind the shift to plant-based foods

The top motivators for the majority of consumers to eat plant-based foods are curiosity and a perceived improved flavor, according to a recent survey. Approximately 30 percent of respondents said they had heard a lot about plant-based foods and were curious about them, while 41 percent said they liked to try new foods in general.

Burger King’s Impossible Whopper taste-test advertisement demonstrates how flavor is a must for encouraging non-vegetarians to choose a plant-based burger or entree. In the final words of the advertisement, a customer states, “I’m reevaluating my life,” after discovering his favorite Whopper is made from plants. Messaging like this hits home how taste is critical in growing the number of people open to trying a flexitarian diet.

“While the novelty of a plant-based item may drive trial, if it’s not 'craveable,' it will not drive a repeat purchase," observed Food Navigator USA correspondent Mary Ellen Shoup.

Health and environmental concerns turn more consumers away from meat

Concerns over health and environmental challenges also motivate consumers to pursue plant-based options. About 9 in 10 Americans say their health is why they purchase plant-based foods, while 64 percent do so to help reduce global warming, according to one Yale University report

Plant-based ethics now extend to plant-based environmentalism. This macro force is leading companies to differentiate based on sustainability promises. Panera Bread, for example, announced its menu will be 50 percent plant-based by December 2020, citing its customers’ growing awareness around their diets and its link to climate change.

And this transformation isn’t just about swapping beef burgers for plant-based ones. For example, Bumble Bee Foods will offer a plant-based fish option in partnership with Good Catch, a company that makes plant-based alternatives to seafood, in order to appeal to people shifting to fish alternatives as they strive to reduce their environmental impact.

“The new decade ushers in consumers eager to benefit their own health and the health of the planet, looking for a diverse range of planet-friendly choices,” wrote Rachel Hommel of New Hope Network.And luckily, plant-based products finally taste great.”

Image credit: Good Catch Foods/Facebook

Sarah Hutcherson headshot

As a recent Bard MBA Sustainability graduate, Sarah is excited to be a contributing writer to TriplePundit to demonstrate how environmentally and socially responsible business is synonymous with stronger returns and a more sustainable world. She is most intrigued with how to foster regenerative food systems, develop inclusive and democratic workplaces and inspire responsible consumption.

Read more stories by Sarah Hutcherson