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Alternative Foods for Restaurant Meals in 2020

by | Jan 2, 2020

Food is visual, sensual, and versatile. And, our love affair with food is unwavering: there are at least 70 shows on The Food Network today. Yet, as a new decade approaches, we see fresh trends emerging. Millennials and Gen Z now dominate the world of online ordering, their taste preferences driving food trends across the restaurant ecosystem. From keto diets to functional foods, consumers increasingly favor nutrition-based choices. Sure, 45% of Americans turn to comfort foods when stressed. Yet, with the advent of alternative proteins and dairy milks, there are plenty of ways to create classic meals that are both healthy and delicious. As we dive into 2020, which alternative foods will resonate with you?

1. Do You Really “Knead” Flour?

If you love donuts, coffee cakes, and pasta, you appreciate the role flour plays in making those foods habit-forming. But, what happens when you want to ditch the carbs? As keto continues to dominate the diet space in 2019, carbs have become the de facto food villain everyone loves to hate. Around 39% of US consumers admit to actively avoiding carbohydrates. In fact, over 20% of people avoiding sugar aren’t doing it for health reasons or to reduce their caloric intake. Instead, they’re cutting the sugar to reduce their carb intake.

That said, we don’t see consumers cutting out flour completely. It happens to be one of the largest sources of carbs on the planet…and one of the tastiest. Trying to limit your carbs sounds easy until you remember that pizza and burgers exist. The American diet is glued to carbs. In 2019, around 42% of the typical American diet consists of “bad carbs” (these include refined sugar and flours). We’re used to feasting on hot dogs, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pasta. What’s more: we love them all.

Finally, what’s the first thing that happens when you start a new diet? You begin to crave comfort foods. Fortunately, you can dive into that bowl of pasta and a tasty slice of pizza without loading up on processed flour. Alternative flours like almond, tigernut, and coconut flour are pouring into the market, providing consumers with plenty of options — many of which are low-carb and keto-friendly. Amazon-owned Whole Foods predicts that alternative flours will see a boost in popularity this year, partially driven by low-carb diets. And, GrubHub reported that cauliflower pizza was the top ordered food in America in 2019. Flour revolution, anyone?

New Flours: #1 in Alternative Foods

When it comes to flour, consumers have access to a variety of choices. Here are just a few:

  • Amaranth flour
  • Chickpea flour
  • Almond flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Cauliflower flour
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Tigernut flour
  • Banana flour
  • Potato flour
  • Oat flour
  • Rice flour
  • Quinoa flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Tapioca flour

The list goes on. We think our love affair with carbs may be innate. However, alternative flour products give consumers the opportunity to savor pizza, chips, pasta, and cookies without guilt. This alternative flour trend is partially driven by keto and paleo, partly inspired by the rise of functional foods, and partly precipitated by veganism. For restaurants, alternative flours are a “no-grainer” option. You can whip up functional food bowls, experiment with unique textures and tastes, and drive traffic to your restaurant by offering options for those who are avoiding traditional flours.

2. Plants “Cow-Moo-Flaged” as Dairy Alternatives

Freshly made almond milk, one of the top alternative food trends for 2020.

This may sound utterly ridiculous, but cow’s milk isn’t the only milk in town anymore. Over the past few generations, Americans have been drinking less and less milk. In fact, milk has slowly evolved from “the healthiest drink in the fridge” to “may cause complications after consuming.” It doesn’t help matters that milk and dairy are also the top two sources of saturated fat in the American diet. Plus, some health experts maintain that milk is incriminated in diseases like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer. Plus, it may actually cause your bones to become more brittle.

That said, we aren’t nutritionists and certainly don’t claim to have any answers to health-related diet questions. However, new research has played a role (albeit a small one) in the gradual (but very real) downfall of America’s favorite cold beverage.

Also, popular diets like keto and veganism have one thing in common — no cow’s milk allowed. This is apart from the elephant in the room: 65% of people have difficulty digesting lactose. For some ethnicities, that number is even higher.

A few years ago, milk substitutes were fringe products. Hip coffee joints, trendy restaurants, and vegan cafes were about the only places you could get soy milk or almond milk. Today, almost everyone offers milk substitutes. Dunkin’ Donuts (who is also all-aboard the alternative meat trend) and Starbucks both have milk alternatives on the menu. And, it’s not uncommon to find some restaurants offering 5 to 10 different types of dairy-free milk. We know what you’re thinking: are there really that many alternative milks out there? Check them out below!

Dairyless Milks: #2 in Alternative Foods

  • Coconut milk
  • Almond milk
  • Pea milk
  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Oat milk
  • Peanut milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Flax milk
  • Spelt milk
  • Walnut milk
  • Tigernut milk

An Incredible Opportunity for Restaurants

If a beverage is plant-based, you can be sure some health-trendy startup will market it soon. When Swedish company Oatly first started doing business in America, it was shocked by the popularity of its oat beverage. Shortages were common, even after the brand ramped up factory production by +1,200%. People were spending up to $200 for the company’s oat milk on Amazon. Eventually, Oatly had to build a second factory to keep up with the explosive demand for its revolutionary product.

That said, non-dairy milks have certainly come into their own. According to Mintel, alternative milks have grown by 61% over the past five years and are expected to reach $38 billion dollars in market value by 2024. Today, nearly half of all American shoppers pick up a carton of nut or seed-based milk during their supermarket runs. And, while consumers are eagerly stocking up on their favorite dairy-free milks, it has been a slow year over at Dairyville. Between 2018 and 2019, over 2,700 dairy farms closed in the United States, largely precipitated by new competition and a consumer base that has largely lost its taste for cow’s milk.

For restaurants, dairy-free milk represents an incredible opportunity. This trend isn’t necessarily new, but it’s certainly growing in popularity. Restaurants can still differentiate themselves by offering dairy-free milk — especially if it’s one of the more unique varieties.

3) Fermented Drinks

Kombucha tea, one of the most popular alternative food trends in America.

All aboard the Kombucha train! The probiotic craze is still in full swing. And, what started as an obsession with kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt has turned into a new love affair with fermented beverages. It’s all about the drinkables now.

Humans have been preserving food for thousands of years, and almost every culture on the planet has one or two fermented staples that date back generations (like Iceland’s fermented, rotten shark head and Greenland’s seal carcass stuffed with hundreds of dead birds). The latter is often dubbed the “Turducken from Hell.” However, once modern agriculture and the factory industry exploded in the early 19th century, those time-consuming fermented foods were replaced by new processed foods.

Everyone appreciates technological progress, but we’ve sadly lost something in the process. Those microorganisms (probiotics) responsible for the fermentation process also happen to be great for our gut biome when we ingest them. Probiotics have been linked to improved gut and immunity function, easier digestion, reduced rates of heart disease, more effective weight loss, and even reductions in anxiety and depression.

Fermented Beverages: #3 in Alternative Foods

Here’s the thing — you can’t keep a good food down. As the younger generation of consumers drives health-conscious trends in America, fermented foods are exploding into the American consciousness in novel ways. Yet, this isn’t news. Probiotics have dominated the grocery aisle for almost a decade now, and we’ve been experiencing kimchi revolutions for decades.

But, drop the forks. Beverages are the new fermented foods people want. Upserve shows that fermented drinks (especially the ever-popular Kombucha tea) have grown a massive 149% over the last few years. Meanwhile, kombucha and other refrigerated “hard” probiotic drinks grew around 21% last year. In fact, Kombucha alone is set to hit $3.5 billion dollars in market value by 2025. That’s an incredible development, given that the Kombucha market was at just ~$10 million dollars in 2005.

For restaurants, fermented drinks are one of the easiest trends to tap into. Serving Kombucha tea on tap and incorporating probiotics into desserts and other food items can bring in some serious revenue.

Are You Ready to Drive Profits With Alternative Foods?

Incorporating trendy food ingredients as part of your regular menu or as LTOs is a fantastic way to drive some extra traffic to your restaurant. But, how do you advertise those alternative foods? Whether you’re serving jalebi, ice-cold doogh, dhokla, idli, or puto, you’ll need a robust online ordering system to do it. Also, the biggest consumers of alternative foods are younger consumers. Did you know 22% of Gen Z orders food online more than THREE times per week? If you want to highlight your alternative menu items, you need to do it online.

9Fold helps you build hyper-functional, branded online ordering portals that let you run smart campaigns, tap into rich data, and leverage novel menu items to drive revenues. Want to know how? Contact us today.

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