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Embracing Plant-Forward Eating: Unveiling the Latest Trends

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Amy Basile


Plant-based proteins have experienced a significant surge in popularity in recent years, driven by various factors such as health consciousness, environmental concerns, and animal welfare considerations. As consumer preferences continue to shift towards plant-based options, the alternative protein market is expected to expand further, offering an even wider array of innovative products that cater to different tastes, dietary preferences, and cultural traditions. 

Datassential’s 2023 round of their Plant-Forward Opportunity study focused on understanding consumer expectations around plant-forward offerings. Come along as we look at some of the key trends shaping the plant-based protein landscape today. 



The term plant-forward as defined by the Menus of Change group indicates “a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, foods from plant sources—fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices—and reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.” Plant-forward eating isn’t just for kids today. With interest increasing across the general population, over one-quarter of the general population are limiting meat in their diet.   


Although vegan and vegetarian consumers do skew to Gen Z, it turns out that Boomers are getting in on eating plant-forward and are the most likely of all generations to consider themselves flexitarian. Millennials, students, and foodies are leading the plant-forward eating charge, and more than half of the general population expresses openness to incorporating plant-forward options into their diets.   



Health is the primary motivator for approximately two-thirds of consumers who choose plant-based or plant-forward eating. Gen X and Boomers are particularly health-conscious, while Gen Z is more inclined to consider cost, environmental impact, and moral reasons.  


How does cost factor in? Consumers generally expect plant-based items to be priced higher than animal-based equivalents--especially plant-based meat analogs. This perception holds true across all menu categories. Despite concerns about cost, consumers view plant-based proteins favorably, recognizing their health benefits, sustainability, taste, and nutritional value.  Notably, cost-conscious meat eaters are more likely to explore plant-based options. More than a quarter of consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, anticipate ordering more plant-forward dishes from restaurants and foodservice outlets in the coming year. 


While 29% of the general population is willing to pay a premium for plant-based offerings, the willingness varies depending on the specific menu item. There is still room for growth in consumer preference for plant-based proteins over animal proteins. Increased exposure and familiarity are key to expanding consumer appeal. Familiar flavors, samples, and recognizable dishes are effective incentives to mitigate the risk in trying a new plant-forward option. 


Interest in plant-based eating is steadily climbing across the general population in 2023. Plant-based proteins are highly regarded for their healthiness, sustainability, taste, and nutritional value. However, it may take some time before the majority of the public develops a preference for them over animal proteins. Consumers may need to spend more time exploring and becoming familiar with plant-based options as increased familiarity often leads to heightened appeal and preference.


Regardless of the specific plant-based offering, taste and familiarity are crucial factors in motivating consumers to trial. Nearly half of consumers are willing to try a plant-based dish if it incorporates familiar flavors, while more than a quarter can be swayed if they recognize the dish or its format. On the other hand, skeptics express concerns that plant-forward dishes might not be as tasty or filling as their animal-based counterparts. 

Link to access Datassential Report: 

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