Marketing Alternative Proteins on the Menu

From left, Joelle Johnson, senior director, restaurant supply chain solutions (A Yum! Brands Co-op), Kim Bartley, CMO, White Castle (hidden), Tracy McGinnis, director of marketing, Fox Restaurant Conc
From left, Joelle Johnson, senior director, restaurant supply chain solutions (A Yum! Brands Co-op), Kim Bartley, CMO, White Castle (hidden), Tracy McGinnis, director of marketing, Fox Restaurant Concepts, Bruce Perkin, principal scientist, Robust Food So

Experts advise operators on how to market plant-forward offerings.

Restaurant operators are providing an expanding array of menu options as more guests look for plant-based and alternative proteins in their diets.

But since the reasons driving guests toward “plant-forward” offerings are so varied – ranging from health concerns to interest in the environment or animal protection — there aren’t cookie-cutter solutions for how operators should market their new offerings.

At our recent Restaurant Innovation Summit, held Nov. 7-8 in Dallas, a panel of experts from restaurant chains, suppliers and food consultancies offered some marketing advice:

  • Flavor is king. No matter what ingredients you use to prepare your product, flavor is the most important thing, the experts agreed. Promoting your food that way seems to work the best, said Wendy Davidson, president of Specialty Channels at Kellogg North America. Calling an item “vegetarian” is about the product, Davidson notes. But marketing “the authenticity of ingredients, the cooking method, using words like grilled and seared, those things equate to the flavor profile.”
  • Focus on lifestyle. Flower Child restaurants use the tagline “Healthy food for a happy world.” Tracy McGinnis, director of marketing for Flower Child’s parent company, fast-casual Fox Restaurant Concepts, said the restaurants use words like vegan, vegetarian and gluten- free on the menu, but focus their marketing on lifestyle. “It’s about feeling great so when you leave you feel well and radiate positivity.”
  • Emphasize the adventure: White Castle said it focuses on what its customers would be willing to try. “We consider ourselves a slider brand,” said Chief Marketing Officer Kim Bartley, who noted that the chain rolled out Impossible Burger sliders chainwide in September. “They’re plant-based, but taste great. We try to make everything craveable.”
  • Align with the brand: Consultant Bruce Perkin, principal scientist with Robust Food Solutions, said it’s important to align products with the brand. “Take Arby’s, which is all about the meats. They can have fun with ‘We have the wannabe meats,’” he said.

For companies who are looking to be more plant-forward, the panelists recommended talking to customers first, finding great partners to help and staying true to the brand. “If the product isn’t good enough for you to use,” Perkin said, “don’t use it.” But if it works with your menu and your cooking platform, “it may bring in a new consumer that wouldn’t come to your operation.”

Learn more about the Restaurant Innovation Summit