Vegan Goes Fast-Casual

Fast-casuals present the quality of full-service restaurants with the speed and convenience of quick-service operations and have become the go-to platform for consumers’ growing appetite for vegan options. Once thought of as a niche, vegan foods have made their way into the mainstream. A diverse variety of consumers are now on-board with veg-centric offerings, whether the underlying motivation is for flavor experimentation or to show their support for animal welfare, personal health, or environmental sustainability. The acceptance that plant-based foods deliver flavorful attributes and provide significant benefits has boosted consumers’ hunger for quick vegan solutions. Fast-casuals are providing the accessible setting needed to fulfill this demand, serving items from plant-based meats and dairy-free milk and cheese alternatives to meat-inspired takes on vegetables.

Veganism: A Modern Revolution, Not a Fad

The plant-based landscape is generating more buzz than ever before, and a growing number of consumers are dedicated to the veg-centric movement because of its far-reaching impact. With plant-based sales increasing by 31% since 2017 and the total plant-based market reaching $4.5 billion (Plant-Based Foods Association), vegan offerings are no longer peculiar to customers; they’re perceived as better for you while sparking curiosity and appetites. Numerous consumers interested in vegan options will likely pay a premium price for the value of a convenient, cruelty-free meal. The widespread acceptance of vegan and plant-based foods is making it easier to shift this category into a format that suits the busy lifestyles of modern consumers. And as convenience continues to rise as a top priority, opportunities will be abundant in the plant-based fast-casual sector.

Veganize Your Fast-Casual Menu

Because of the convenient, customizable format, fast-casuals can market vegan options to a broad range of customers, from full-time vegans to meat-eaters seeking health-forward selections and adventurous diners looking to try something new. It’s crucial to focus on the flavors, textures, and noteworthy qualities that make plant-based items a treat for customers. The fundamental strategy to capturing customer interest is executing items with flavors so striking and delicious, vegan becomes an afterthought. To entice customers with veg-centric options, utilize ingredients in combinations that, together, create exceptional flavors without relying on meat to impress.

Treat these dishes the same way you’d treat a meat dish: layer the flavors, consider how they meld together, incorporate plant-based protein, research ethnic influences, and think about textures. Serve plant-forward items with indulgent qualities that deliver the comfort consumers are seeking in a meal they can feel good about eating. Execute innovative flavor combinations and add interesting components like nuts, seeds, ancient grains, and next-level sauces. Vegetables or soy products resembling animal-based proteins are also highly intriguing to customers, especially non-vegans looking for familiarity in veg-forward options. Experiment with vegan takes on traditionally non-vegan elements like portobello mushroom patties or steaks, smoked carrot lox,
cashew cheese, tofu feta, and shiitake bacon.

Tremendous opportunity resides in plant-based meats, with more than $2 billion invested in this category in 2019 alone. With shortages not long after coming to market, The Impossible™ Burger (5lb. brick, #045638) and additional Impossible™ products are making moves on menus from Burger King’s Impossible™ Whopper (made vegan if ordered without mayonnaise) to Qdoba’s Impossible™ meat tacos, burritos, and bowls. PlantFare™ Plant-Based Protein Shreds are another trending alternative that makes a convenient, versatile addition to any fast-casual lineup.

Packed with the same flavor and texture of animal-based meat, PlantFare™ Plant-Based Protein Shreds provide 16 grams of protein per every 3-ounce serving. These shreds are made with just six ingredients and deliver exceptional taste, texture, and appeal. Feature them in bowls, sandwiches, tacos, pasta entrées, and soups. Emphasize their impact on sustainability by menuing our Chipotle-Citrus Vegan Mission-Style Burritos and offering them in sustainable to-go packaging. No matter what meat alternative you’re serving, promote its broad impact and benefits to make customers feel like they’re making a difference by choosing your fast- casual operation.

A Peek into Popular Plant-Based Fast-Casual Offerings

Draw inspiration from some of these trending fast-casual establishments that are taking veg-centricity to new heights. For more information on how to incorporate more vegan and plant-based offerings into your menu, contact your Maines Territory Manager today!

Panera Bread

Panera Bread is a nation-wide fast-casual cafe that caters to its vegan customers throughout the menu. Some of its top plant-forward offerings include the soba noodles and edamame bowl, seasonal greens salad, Baja and Mediterranean grain bowls, and vegan lentil and quinoa broth bowl.

by Chloe.

This fast-expanding, vegan-friendly, fast-casual eatery has locations in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Rhode Island and even London, UK. This operation menus standard soy solutions in innovative applications such as tofu crema, tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patties, apricot-sriracha glazed tempeh, and spicy seitan chorizo. It also offers shiitake bacon on its BLT, in salads, and mac and cheese, and features oat milk, a top-trending milk alternative, in smoothies, oatmeals, and cakes.


Boasting a 100% plant-based menu of fast-casual favorites, Matthew Kenney’s restaurant Humbl is the perfect place for vegans and non-vegans who want to experience indulgent, creative plant-based foods. Humbl’s menu showcases a signature 17-ingredient Humbl Burger topped with cashew Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and Humbl Sauce (herbed aioli and spicy carrot mustard). Other noteworthy plant-based features on the menu include fennel-farro sausage, farro chorizo, shiitake bacon, cashew mozzarella, and macadamia ricotta.

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