The Dawn of Flexitarians

Last month, casual dining chain TGI Fridays announced it was adding a buzz-worthy option to its 465 nationwide locations: The Impossible Burger. Made from all natural ingredients like wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, this plant-based burger is unique in that it bleeds, smells and sizzles like a regular beef patty thanks to a naturally-occurring iron compound called heme.

The Impossible Burger is made from all natural ingredients like wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, but it has very unique characteristics.

With less than 2% of the U.S. population identifying as vegan, many industry skeptics wonder why TGI Fridays believes a plant-based burger will thrive on a traditionally carnivorous menu.

The answer: Flexitarians.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

A 2017 consumer survey by the Nielsen Group found that 40% of U.S. consumers were incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets. Not fully vegetarian or vegan, but consciously limiting their consumption of meat and meat byproducts, these new eaters are called flexible vegetarians, or simply, Flexitarians.

In a separate 2017 survey by Mattson, nearly 30% of U.S. adults said they followed one of two Flexitarian eating styles: Somewhat Vegetarian and Mostly Vegetarian.

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

What’s driving the shift towards plant-based cuisine? Based on Mattson’s research, consumers are drawn to plant-centric cuisine for health & wellness benefits and environmental concerns.

The top reasons why consumers are shifting towards plant-centric cuisine center around health & wellness and environmental concerns.

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

WHAT WE THINK

Investing in plant-based innovations is important, but widespread consumer adoption is still a ways off.

There is a significant movement with consumers experimenting and adopting more plant-centric diets. But 85% of the U.S. population is still eating meat and meat byproducts. Food and beverage companies should continue to look for relevant plant-based innovation opportunities, but set realistic volume and sales goals based on current consumer adoption trends.

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s important to keep the following in mind when vetting potential plant-based innovations:

# 1: Consider at-home vs. away-from-home consumption

According to Mattson’s research, 67% of consumers are most likely to try plant-based cuisine in a home environment. Meaning trial is more likely to happen in the grocery aisle than at a restaurant.

  • 54% say they are most likely to try plant-based dishes at home
  • 13% say they are most likely to try plant-based dishes at a friend or family’s home
  • 33% say they are most likely to try plant based dishes away-from-home

# 2: Identify the need you intend to fulfill

For any plant-based product, the consumer needs must go beyond “I want a plant-based dish.” Is it intended to satisfy a craving for vegetable fare OR a craving for a traditional meat-based item made from plants? Is it meant to provide satiety and protein fulfillment OR the feeling of wellness associated with lighter, fresh ingredients? These answers will help craft your product narrative, and also help identify your target customer.

# 3: Know who your target customer is 

Not all plant-based innovations will appeal to plant-seeking consumers in the same way. Here we see a consumer test of two plant-based burger concepts with two different “likely customer” outcomes:

Black Bean Burger 

  • Satisfies a craving for a plant-forward burger experience
  • Most likely customers are Somewhat Vegetarians, Mostly Vegetarians, Vegetarians and Vegans

The Impossible Burger

  • Satisfies a craving for a beef-burger experience but made with plant-based ingredients
  • Most likely customers are Mostly Vegetarians, Vegetarians and Vegans

Source: “What You Need to Know About the Meteoric Rise in Flexitarian Eating.” Mattson. August 2017.

While True Omnivores may experiment with plant-based cuisine because of curiosity or a periodic craving, they shouldn’t be counted on to drive sales of plant-based innovations either at home or on the menu.

What does this all mean for TGI Fridays? Because their core menu is centered around traditional meat and meat byproducts, it could be a challenge to get vegetarian-leaning consumers in the door for just one item. After the initial excitement wears off, time will tell if their traditional (True Omnivore) customer-base can sustain the item long term.

Big Game. Bigger Opportunity.

This Sunday, as we watch the country descend on our snowy metropolis for Super Bowl LII, nearly 50 million Americans are expected to partake in a sacred tradition: purchasing takeout/delivery fare.

1.35 billion chicken wings will be spiced, sauced and devoured1. Domino’s and Pizza Hut will bake off 33 million slices of pizza2. And party guests will shell out $58 million on grocery deli sandwiches and another $10 million on grocery deli dips to go along with their potato chips3.

Why settle for a snack stadium when you can build your own Viking-inspired snack ship?

Why settle for a snack stadium when you can build your own Viking-inspired snack ship with this video-tutorial, courtesy of  Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine.

But with Sunday’s big event comes an often-missed marketing opportunity: takeout/delivery packaging.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

The consumer demand for more delivery and takeout options is a fairly recent phenomenon, with Uber Eats making its first delivery in 2014. Unfortunately, the packaging world has found itself scrambling to develop travel-friendly containers that not only maintain temperature, but also control humidity.

David Chang, world-famous chef of Momofuku and founder of Ando–a delivery-only restaurant in New York City–spent two years trying to solve this mystery and redefine restaurant delivery. He developed a travel-friendly menu and experimented with different packaging methods for improved transport. Yet Chang and his team consistently struggled to ensure hot, fresh food arrived to its customers. Industry analysts believe it was a contributing factor in Chang’s decision to let Uber Eats acquire Ando last month.

Because the functionality of takeout and delivery packaging has yet to be solved, marketing and branding opportunities have largely taken a back seat.

WHAT WE THINK

As packaging becomes more important in the food delivery/takeout space, it’s likely consumers will pay closer attention to its features and benefits as well.

Just as packaging innovations are made to improve food quality and portability, branding and storytelling opportunities must also be addressed. While consumers largely overlook the containers, boxes and bags today, companies will begin to differentiate their brand with packaging through functionality, storytelling and play. 

WHAT’S NEXT

Here are three examples of how we see companies utilizing delivery/takeout packaging with customers in the near future:

Functionality

Responsive packaging systems react with stimuli in the food or environment to enable real-time food quality and food safety. While this coffee lid turns red to alert a consumer that their beverage is too hot to drink, this concept could be used for quality assurance purposes. Packaging could use the color-changing technology to indicate whether food is still hot and fresh upon delivery.

Responsive packaging systems react to stimuli in the food or environment to enable real-time food quality and food safety.

Storytelling

Innovative companies will reimagine boxes and carrying containers as a canvas for branded storytelling. A 2017 campaign for Pizza Hut Malaysia by Ogilvy Malaysia demonstrates the power of narratives on the pizza box itself to showcase popular reasons why customers order a pizza for delivery. In this case, the all-too-familiar dinner fail.

A 2017 campaign for Pizza Hut Malaysia by Ogilvy Malaysia highlights storytelling on the pizza box.

Interactivity & Play

Other brands will use packaging as a way to interact and engage with customers. In celebration of the McFlurry’s 22nd Birthday, McDonald’s Canada collaborated with the University of Waterloo to create a limited-edition drink-tray boombox that works with any standard smartphone. In addition to being portable, the tray-based sound system is 100% recyclable.

McDonald's Canada collaborated with the University of Waterloo to create a limited-edition drink tray boombox that worked with customers' smartphones.

Just some Thought for Food

1 “Wing-Onomics.” National Chicken Council. 29 January 2018.
2 “The Staggering Amounts of Food Eaten on Super Bowl Sunday.” ABC News Online. 2 February 2017.
3 “From Live TV to the Grocery Aisles, Americans are Prepping for Super Bowl 51.” The Nielsen Company. 30 January 2017.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! akile@jtmega.com

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