Easy Plant-Based Food Swaps to Transform Your Menu for Flexitarians

Tuesday, 24 August, 2021

With an increasing number of Australians actively reducing their meat consumption, it makes sense for your foodservice business to offer meat-free menu options. In this article, we'll examine the growing trend of semi-vegetarianism (flexitarian) and how you can cater to this growing demographic with a few easy ingredient swaps.

Teriyaki tofu with rice, green onion, and sliced tomato in bowl

Here come the flexitarians

In the last few years, meat consumption throughout Australia has decreased in a noticeable way. The 2020 State of the Industry report by Food Frontier revealed that 42% of Aussies were eating less meat, or none at all, with health being a key motivating factor. Another insight from the report was that the number of Australians who identify as flexitarian was 20%, with 12% identifying as meat reducer and 10% as fully vegetarian/vegan.

It's no secret that the rise in plant-based eating has been reflected throughout the foodservice industry, with even major fast-food operators prominently displaying plant-based alternatives in their menus. If you're a foodservice business seeking to cater to the emerging flexitarian diet without completely overhauling your menu, this article is for you.

Restaurant customer eating vegetable salad at table


What is a flexitarian diet?

Merriam-Webster defines a flexitarian as "one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish". According to a study from the Ecology of Food and Nutrition, a flexitarian or 'semi-vegetarian' is someone who significantly reduces their meat consumption at least three days each week.

Unlike vegetarianism and veganism, the flexitarian diet has no hard rule about what or how much someone can eat. However, you don't need to have a concrete definition of what a flexitarian diet is to serve this demographic.

The important thing to take away from all this is that more Australians are reducing their meat consumption.

Last year we wrote about the rise of flexitarians and plant-based eating, listing some of the benefits to operators of catering to this growing market, which include:

  1. Driving new customers to the business.
  2. Business is better positioned to cater to diverse groups of diners.
  3. Increased relevancy in the foodservice space.

So, how can you easily transform your menu to cater to flexitarians and other customers who want to eat less meat, or none at all?

Customer cutting vegan sandwich with cutlery at café table


Easy plant-based swaps for your menu

Here are a few easy plant-based swaps that you can start incorporating into your menu.


Use plant-based meat substitutes

The emergence of plant-based meat substitutes has helped make adopting a flexitarian, vegetarian, or entirely plant-based diet easier for people who don't want to give up on meat's distinct taste and texture. The clever mix of ingredients used in plant-based meat products effectively mimics the experience of eating animal meat while offering a comparable level of nutrition.

The soy-based Harvest Gourmet Sensational Burger offers a similar level of protein as real beef while also having higher fibre content and a lower amount of carbs, sodium, and saturated fat. Incorporating it in your menu to cater to flexitarians is as easy as swapping out your regular beef patty during the preparation process, creating minimal disruption for your staff.

Check out this Sensational Mushroom Burger recipe for some inspiration.

In terms of advertising this alternative to your customers, you could offer plant-based swaps to customise their dish. Alternatively, you could create and name an entirely new dish using plant-based meat.

In 2020 Easey's in Collingwood trialled the Harvest Gourmet Sensational Burger, with 100% of customers saying they enjoyed the plant-based offering. The Harvest Gourmet Cheeseburger is now a permanent and popular fixture in their menu, ensuring that those who wish to avoid meat always have an option.

Take a look at the Harvest Gourmet menu toolkit for advice on how to incorporate and market your new plant-based offering in your menu. Don’t forget to download the Harvest Gourmet staff toolkit so your team knows how to communicate the benefits of the sensational burger to customers.

Customer cutting vegan sandwich with cutlery at café table
Grilled plant-based meat patties on plate with vegetables

Replace chicken and fish with tofu

Tofu is another soy-based meat substitute that has been a long-time favourite of those pursuing a flexitarian or plant-based diet. Like chicken and fish, much of the flavour and enjoyment of tofu comes from the marinade used and what other ingredients accompany it.

This makes tofu an easy meat-free substitute for any chicken or fish-based dishes you already have on your menu. Because tofu is so bland on its own, it's easy to flavour tofu so that it tastes like chicken or fish (and even other meats like beef or pork).

Crispy fried tofu with vegetables in bowl

Replace any meat with mushrooms

Mushrooms are incredibly versatile and are commonly used as a meat substitute in a variety of dishes, thanks to their meaty texture. Their distinct flavour profile, known as "umami", makes for a satisfying alternative to meat in mixed dishes like stews, casseroles, and stir-frys.

Portobello mushrooms are one of the most popularly seen in today's plant-based menus. They're very absorbent, picking up the flavour of whatever marinade you use and can even be served whole as a "mushroom steak".

BBQ portobello mushroom on flame grill


How to advertise your plant-based swaps to flexitarians

If you're planning to incorporate meat-free substitutes like Harvest Gourmet in your menu, there are a few tricks you should use to maximise their appeal to flexitarians (or even those who are curious about plant-based food).

Customer choosing from restaurant menu with waitress

Use appealing language

When describing dishes where you have swapped out meat for a plant-based alternative, ensure that you use the term "plant-based" rather than "fake meat" or "like meat". Even using the term "vegan" can deter flexitarians who don't identify with that dietary choice.

Feature them prominently in your menu

Don't hide away your plant-based menu items in a separate section away from your main offerings - feature them prominently! This is how you normalise plant-based foods and make them just one of many viable options, giving them equal importance and not making flexitarian customers feel alienated from the "main" offering.

Offer samples to curious customers

When you replace meat in a dish with a comparable plant-based ingredient, there's a novelty factor attached to it. This entices customers to want to try it and make their dining experience a little bit more exciting. Offering a small sample of your plant-based offerings will let undecided customers know how delicious they are and entice them to order the full dish. This also creates a unique interaction between you and the customer. There's a good chance they will tell their friends and family about the experience or even post about it on social media (giving you a free marketing boost!) Check out the Harvest Gourmet social media guide to help you leverage platforms like Facebook and Instagram to generate buzz around your new plant-based menu items.


How will you alter your menu to cater to the growing number of flexitarians?

As more people adopt a flexitarian diet and minimise their consumption of meat, it makes sense to have at least one prominent plant-based option on your menu. With plant-based alternatives like Harvest Gourmet offering a taste and texture almost identical to that of real meat, it's never been easier to pivot your existing menu to this growing demographic.

Get in touch with Nestlé Professional for a local representative to assist you with incorporating our plant-based range into your menu.

Happy chef with arms crossed in open restaurant kitchen