By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

Climate change is something opaque and far-off. In our minds, thinking only about the environmental impact of eating meat is not what’s causing people to slowly shift to more plant-based diets or the most apt term of ‘flexitarians’ where people gradually shift to roughly an 80/20 split between plants and animal products respectively. Rather, people are shifting because the overwhelming scientific research is showing that it’s healthier to eat more unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

Yes, in the near term we see headlines that say that Beyond Meat or other equivalents have flat quarter-over-quarter sales. Our rebuttal can be found in the word ‘unprocessed’. People are increasingly discovering ways to incorporate more plants into their diets but are simultaneously shunning processed foods of all types, be they high fructose corn syrup fruit juices, cold cuts or ‘meat alternatives’ with their laundry list of chemical additives necessary to imitate their animal-derived equivalents.

Why bother writing on this topic? Why is this important for hotels right now? Both good questions – your time is valuable.

We’re writing about these because the ground is shifting…and fast. Wellness and health are both trends that the pandemic accelerated, and customers are increasingly looking to their dining options as a way to accommodate or augment their new flexitarian lifestyles. Having an onsite restaurant with renowned for its plant-based options and ‘healthy’ meal choices may soon be the deciding factor for some bookings. Compounding this long-term trend is the near-term inflation where many people are shifting away from meat products at every meal in search of cheaper dining options.

The most critical part for you to remember in all this is that everyone else is also exploring ways to enhance their plant-based menu selection. It’s an arms race; if you’re not constantly looking for ways to do better and stand out then you run the risk of being unmemorable and without a marketing edge.

Key to avoiding mediocrity with your F&B programs is to first look to what the quick-serve chains are doing in this regard. Long ago – in the antecovidian times – we wrote about how ‘fast food was where food trends go to die’. What this really means is that by the time major restaurant chains have embraced a trend, that trend has already reached the mainstream with enough justifiable support to warrant a large-scale rollout. National or multinational chains can’t afford to take the same risks that, say, a food truck can because a failure would be felt by numerous stakeholders, affecting the share price and costing jobs.

Hence, every new product launch must first be market-tested, which is where independent restaurants – whether housed in a hotel or otherwise – should exist. We must constantly stay one step ahead of the chains, through innovative recipes, higher quality ingredients and superior presentation (both on the plate and overall ambiance). If we don’t, then what reason do guests have for choosing our eateries and paying an elevated price plus tip instead of going to the nearest fast food location?

With each new piece of news about a fast-food multinational unveiling a new plant burger or a new peer-reviewed longitudinal dietary food lauding the benefits of a plant-based diet, it is yet more evidence that this food trend is not one any hotel can ignore. If big brands are pivoting hard into this space, then it’s a sign that you must as well. Particularly amongst the more sensitive younger consumers (who will ultimately inherit the warmer planet that’s left for them), plant-based options should be readily apparent on the menu but also have a tasty, innovative twist that a cut above what would be found elsewhere.

And this is more than just presenting the optionality of vegan or vegetarian dishes. It’s in the process and the ‘food miles’. Everything now matters when it comes to achieving net-zero (another climate change term that may have some marketing applications in the near future), from how ingredients are sourced to offsetting energy costs. This starts with an assessment of what can be done as well as a plan for how to execute these changes gradually over the next decade.

There are many ways to go about this transition and we’ve helped hotel clients navigate these waters successfully as part of our consulting practice. For now, what we stress is, first, to understand that this trend is here to stay and, second, adopt an attitude of innovation.

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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.