What’s the Beef? Restaurants Consider Other Protein Options

By Julia Burnett

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While there’s nothing like a good steak or hamburger, U.S. consumers have been steadily cutting down on red meat and looking for other sources of protein. According to QSR Web, the push against red meat has led the restaurant industry to embrace alternatives, like turkey, which is leaner, less expensive and generally healthier than red meat. Some restaurants are also getting adventurous with ostrich, boar and bison… oh my!

Compared to chicken, beef prices have risen drastically over the past 20 years due to the decreasing total inventory of calf and cattle in America. Generally speaking, chicken is cheaper to buy and produce. It’s no wonder that per capita chicken consumption in the U.S. more than tripled in the last century.

Also, red meat has been correlated to medical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. According to Authority Nutrition, it’s important to note that some of these headlines have been sensationalized and organic, grass-fed and unprocessed beef can be nutritious. However, processed and overcooked red meats have been linked to heart disease.

The movement away from red meat is evident in the numbers. The nation’s total beef consumption declined from 27.3 billion pounds in 2008 to 25.5 billion pounds in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Research firm Mintel’s survey of 2,000 adults revealed that 36 percent ate less beef in 2013 than in 2012.

There’s also a sustainability factor in cutting back on red meat and meat in general. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which helps to revise the nation’s official Dietary Guidelines every five years, said Americans should eat less meat in order to benefit the environment. Of course, the recommendation caused an outcry from Congress and the meat industry.

The meatless trend is one that the restaurant industry should study closely. Again, the proof is in the numbers.

Sales of Meatless and Vegetarian Products are Soaring

Increased awareness of the humane treatment of animals has also contributed to a reduction in meat consumption. According to Mintel, sales of plant-based meat alternatives reached $553 million in 2012, growing 8 percent in a two-year period.

It’s not all about eating sprouts, either. “Meatless meats” are a huge trend.

Food comedian Jim Gaffigan pokes some fun at this trend. “But you know who seems to be really obsessed with meat? Vegetarians,” he quipped. “For people who don’t like meat, they seem to eat a lot of vegetables that are mashed up and shaped to look like meat. ‘I don’t like meat, I just like to call meat late at night and hang up. Let’s drive by meat’s house. Does meat ever ask about me?’”

Companies like Beyond Meat are laughing all the way to the bank. The company reported doubling its annual sales, reported Fortune. The vegetarian market is a $2.8-billion industry and 22.3 million Americans say they are inclined to follow a vegetarian diet.

Convenient vegan and vegetarian options are the way of the future. According to author and activist Gene Bauer, more convenient non-meat options are coming. Vegan fast-food restaurants are popping up around the country and fast-food giants are getting on board as well. For instance, Wendy’s is testing a black bean veggie burger.

It’s all food for thought in a changing consumer landscape.

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