Plant-based menu options - a new opportunity to drive sales

MEAT-FREE MENU OPTIONS for pizza and pasta used to be the exception rather than the norm — often restricted to a single vegetarian pizza and pasta dish amid the otherwise large choice of meals.

But today, with the rise of the ‘flexitarian’ and the delineation of plant-based menus as a distinctive foodservice market sector, it makes sense to consider expanding the number of meat-free pizza and pasta choices on your menu.

A growing amount of research suggests that the demand for meat-free options is being driven not by vegetarian or vegan customers but by the increasing number of consumers looking to cut down on their animal meat intake.

These ‘flexitarians’ do not identify as vegetarian or vegan, and are typically motivated by the perceived health benefits of replacing some of the animal meat in their diet with plant-based foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables.

Of course, menu options which cater to these customers will also appeal to your vegetarian consumers too.

As with any meal designed to meet specific dietary requirements, it’s important that they can be delivered without compromising presentation, texture and taste.

In the case of pasta this is relatively simple to achieve. There are many traditional Italian pasta dishes which are meat-free, and plenty of plant-based ingredients which deliver on flavour and texture to such an extent that the absence of meat is scarcely noticeable — mushrooms and eggplant are two examples which have long been staple ingredients in Italian cuisine for this very reason.

For pizza, it’s easy to expand the selection of vegetarian pizza options well beyond a single basic meat-free pizza. As a starting point, you can 

find a selection of innovative vegetarian pizza recipes on this website.

You’ll find that some vegetables which may not seem obvious choices as pizza toppings — such as pumpkin and beetroot — can really enhance both presentation and flavour when used judiciously alongside complementary ingredients.

The addition of spices and the use of different types of cheese — such as fetta and parmesan along with your base cheese of Mozzarella to hold the toppings in place — can impart extra flavour and make the absence of meat a non-issue even for those diners who aren’t seeking to avoid it.

You can complement your meat-free pizza and pasta dishes with a variety of plant-based side dishes, from colourful salads to meat-free antipasto selections. Think tomatoes, olives, artichokes, capsicum, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, onions — served with some extra virgin olive oil, a selection of breads and dipping sauces, and perhaps some tasty hard cheeses. The broad scope of flavours and colourful presentation will make the absence of meat scarcely noticeable — except for those customers who are making a conscious decision to avoid it, and they will be pleased at the inclusion of such alternatives on the menu.