Plant-based pepperoni is coming to the menu at U.S. fast-casual pizza chain Donatos. (Image courtesy of Donatos)
Sales of plant-based foods are booming, and the segment is poised to reach $37.9 billion in market value by 2027. As more consumers gravitate toward flexitarian diets — in other words, eating less meat and enjoying more meals without it — brands are coming to market with a rapidly expanding array of plant-based foods that tout a taste and texture that's just like the real thing. Here are a few standouts, coming soon to restaurants and retailers near you. (If you plan to sample some of them, please remember to do so safely: Wear a mask, keep your distance and be kind to frontline workers.)
KFC has been quietly looking to add plant-based foods to its lineup for the past several years. It started testing a plant-based version of its classic fried chicken with Beyond Meat back in 2019 and expanded the trial to restaurants in Nashville, Charlotte and Southern California a year later. Now, the final version of Beyond Fried Chicken is here, and it rolled out to all U.S. restaurants on Jan. 10.
We can likely expect more plant-based offerings from KFC in the near future, thanks to a recent partnership between Beyond Meat and the chain's parent company, Yum Brands, which also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — both of which have their own new plant-based options cooking.
While Burger King partners with Beyond Meat competitor Impossible Foods for its plant-based take on the Whopper in the U.S., in other markets its key partner is the Vegetarian Butcher, a Unilever-owned brand popping up at a growing collection of restaurants and retailers worldwide. The two brands launched another take on the Whopper in Europe, Latin America and China in 2020, followed by the Vegan Royale (a plant-based alternative to Burger King's original chicken sandwich) in the U.K. last year.
This year, U.K. customers can get their snack on with plant-based nuggets, too. The new BK menu option is one of several recent collaborations from the Vegetarian Butcher, including the new Tu’NAH Sandwich at Starbucks U.K.
After trialing a vegan take on spicy chorizo sausage at select restaurants in Denver, Indianapolis and Orange County last summer, fast-casual Mexican chain Chipotle rolled the option out to all U.S. locations at the start of this year. Made from pea protein blended with chipotle peppers and spices, the new filling brings a touch of heat with none of the meat.
The move adds to Chipotle's roster of plant-based foods, including its vegan "sofritas," a spicy braised tofu filling that's been a hit among customers for over a decade.
Following trials around Toronto and Edmonton last summer, Pizza Hut is rolling out plant-based Italian sausage at its more than 450 restaurants across Canada. Canadian customers can try out the new meat-free sausage on three dishes: a pizza with vegetables, a loaded flatbread and an Alfredo pasta. Pizza Hut has also tested plant-based pepperoni in the U.S. and other Italian sausage dishes in the U.K. as part of parent company Yum Brands' ongoing partnership with Beyond Meat.
Spied at the Plant-Based World Conference and Expo in December: two new takes on plant-based bacon that are coming to market in 2022. The first comes from vegan bacon veteran Hooray Foods: After selling over a million strips of its original vegan bacon recipe, the brand plans to launch a 2.0 version later this year, reports plant-based food blog Vegans Baby. Not to be outdone, San Francisco upstart Umaro Foods has its own version made from seaweed that is set to launch in May.
Guatemalan-born entrepreneur Harry Lewis left his job in the corporate world to found the Ilinel Food Company, a culinary startup focused on affordable nutrition and Latin American food culture. The company's first consumer brand, Casa Verde, comes to market with four ready-to-eat meals developed in partnership with Iron Chef alum Jose Garces.
The recipes offer a plant-based take on a solid lineup of Latin American favorites, including red bean pozole and garbanzos al pastor. Unlike many items on our list, these babies are based on good ol' veggies and legumes rather than fake meat, and in a nod to home-grown Latin food culture, all of the vegetables, beans and spices are sourced from fresh produce markets in Mexico and cooked in kettles just like in mama's kitchen.
Cold Stone Creamery released its first plant-based frozen dessert at the start of the year in partnership with dairy-free brand Silk. The new creation, Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk, is made with Silk's chocolate almond milk, banana, peanut butter and roasted almonds.
Meanwhile, Silk is introducing an updated almond milk at grocers across the U.S. Silk's new Extra Creamy Almondmilk is made from three types of almonds for what the Danone North America brand says is the smoothest and, ahem, silkiest dairy-free experience yet.
Two new plant-based options hit the menu at Mary Brown's Chicken at the start of this year. The chain's new meatless tenders and chicken sandwiches come courtesy of a partnership with plant-based protein purveyor Lightlife.
With an expansive retail lineup and partnerships with other restaurants like Canadian fast-casual chain Pizza Pizza, Lightlife is a plant-based brand on the rise. As an interesting side note: It's owned by Greenleaf Foods, a plant-based spinoff that Canadian meat company Maple Leaf Foods launched back in 1997. That investment — made before plant-based foods were en vogue — has paid off, as both Lightlife and Greenleaf's other major brand, Field Roast, are taking over real estate on store shelves in the U.S. and Canada.
Unlimeat, one of the top plant-based foods brands in Asia, is coming to the U.S. The brand burst onto the scene in 2019 with a plant-based take on sliced meat made from ingredients like soy, pea protein, coconut oil and rice flour. Since then, it has added to its portfolio with products like plant-based minced meat for burgers and tacos and a pulled barbecue meat that resembles slow roasted pork.
Unlimeat's lineup is already available to U.S. customers online, and the brand plans to collaborate with restaurants on menu items in 2022 before launching at brick-and-mortar retail locations stateside.
Domino's U.K. is giving plant-based pepperoni a try in partnership with the Vegetarian Butcher. The new launch adds to an impressive roster of plant-based foods at the fast-casual pizza chain in the U.K., including a Margherita pizza topped with a vegan cheese variety developed in-house by Domino’s.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., a plant-based pepperoni developed by Greenleaf Foods brand Field Roast is coming to the menu at pizza chain Donatos. Known for its keto-friendly pizza crusts made from cauliflower, Donatos has more than 150 locations across the U.S. South, Mid West and Mid Atlantic. Field Roast's plant-based pepperoni made from pea protein will be available on two new cauliflower pizzas alongside fresh veggies and dairy cheese. You can also find Field Roast's take on plant-based pepperoni at Little Caesars restaurants across the U.S.
With over 250 locations across the U.S. and around the world, Yogurtland is one of the top chains for everyone's favorite guilt-free summer snack. It has created more than 200 custom flavors since it launched in 2006, and in 2022 it will add a new plant-based variety to the list. Made from oat milk, the new dairy-free choice adds to an impressive lineup of vegan options previously launched at Yogurtland — including dairy-free piña colada, salted chocolate and oatmeal cookie yogurt flavors, as well as açaí bowls and fruit bowl fusions.
The first fish-free salmon burger is headed to U.S. store shelves this month courtesy of plant-based seafood brand Good Catch. Slap it on a bun or add it to a recipe to enjoy the country's most popular seafood without the sea.
This latest launch adds to the brand's lineup of plant-based foods in the seafood segment, including fish fillets and crab cakes, that are already available in grocery chains including Whole Foods, Tom Thumb, Sprout's and Giant. Seafood chain Long John Silvers also trialed the brand's analog seafood at select stores in Georgia and California last year.
Okay, U.K. readers: Stop what you're doing right now, because vegan Babybel cheese is arriving near you. The plant-based twist on the cult favorite classic first popped up at Sainsbury's late last year and will roll out to more major retailers in the coming months, according to parent company Bel Group.
Ben & Jerry's started making non-dairy desserts back in 2016, in response to consumer demand and even petitions from ice cream lovers looking for plant-based choices from the fan favorite brand. The Vermont-based company has since rolled out non-dairy versions of classic favorites like cookie dough and Cherry Garcia, using an almond or sunflower base, and created some brand-new flavors exclusively for the non-dairy line.
The latest arrivals feature Ben & Jerry's "core" innovation, which allows fans to customize each bite with a special treat in the middle — in this case, salted caramel for the new bananas foster flavor and gluten-free cookies for the new mocha and caramel mix called Boom Chocolatta. The new flavors, along with a mint chocolate recipe developed with Chance the Rapper that debuted last month, bring Ben & Jerry's non-dairy options to 18 — almost 40 percent of the brand's entire flavor lineup.
Sandwich chain Blimpie rolled out its first plant-based sub last week: a hot parmesan sandwich with plant-based meatballs from old-school analog meat brand Gardein. The company says it plans to test the sandwich until April 3, so don't wait too long to try it.
Ready to start 2022 off right? Smoothie giant Jamba has you covered with The Go Getter, its latest plant-based concoction made with matcha green tea, mangos, kale and orange juice. "Filled with three servings of veggies but still tastes like mangos: It's the life hack we've always wanted," the brand wrote on Instagram. The new drink complements an impressive lineup of plant-based foods at Jamba, including a toasted breakfast sandwich featuring a plant-based sausage patty from Impossible Foods.
Popular dairy-free brand Daiya is expanding its reach yet again. The brand's lineup of plant-based cheeses, dressings, desserts and prepared meals will soon be available at restaurants and grocery stores in South Korea thanks to a recently inked sales deal with local distributor Hyundai Green Food. The brand is already sold in about 20 countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia, racking up loyal fans wherever it goes.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is best known as a corner cafe serving beverages, baked goods, and cold sandwich and salad options, but the chain made the move to install ovens in all of its company-owned stores in California and Arizona for first time this year.
This simple shift allows the chain to offer toasted versions of customers' favorite choices and expand the menu to include new options like its first plant-based breakfast sandwich, in partnership with Beyond Meat. Clearly targeting flexiarians more than vegans, the new sandwich features the analog meat brand's Beyond Sausage patty alongside cage-free eggs and provolone cheese.
LikeMeat is one of the top success stories to come out of the LiveKindly Collective, a plant-based protein accelerator founded in 2020 that also includes U.K. plant-based packaged foods purveyors No Meat and Oumph!. LikeMeat burst onto U.S. store shelves back in 2013 with a lineup of plant-based chicken alternatives including wings, nuggets and pulled barbecue. Being acquired by LiveKindly in 2020 helped LikeMeat to grow its reach, and this year it's coming to Sam's Club with a new party pack size that's perfect for the big game.
U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer recently announced a massive expansion of its meat-free Plant Kitchen line. New additions like lasagne, fish-free fish fingers and no-lamb shawarma bring the Plant Kitchen lineup to a stunning 175 products, reports the food blog Plant-Based News. From ready-to-eat prepared meals to scratch-cooking ingredients and sweet treats, each item is tested by the retailer's in-house chefs to ensure "it tastes just as good or even better than its meat or dairy counterpart."
Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit and director of TriplePundit's Brand Studio. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.