State of Plant-Based Meats & How Chefs Can Increase Plant-Based Revenue

Interview: Jonathan Netzky, Founder and Chief Food Officer, Local Alternative Foods

Jonathan Netzky, Founder and Chief Food Officer, Local Alternative Foods, shares his insights on the state of plant-based meats, and how chefs and food service operators can increase revenue and profitability.

What inspired you to start Local Alternative Foods?

In part, my journey as a wellness-minded local foodist led to a taste for whole natural foods as an approach to avoiding disease and lowering my personal carbon footprint. As I searched for the modern-day convenience of ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat foods that tasted wholesome or natural, or even just met my values, I wasn’t finding many options at any price point. So while eating a Lara Bar that fit the WFPB (whole-food plant-based) bill, the clear need to create access to tasty non-meat whole foods for the masses began screaming in my mind.

I already believed in the opportunity to re-localize our food system as a foundation for strengthening the regional health of our peoples and economies. And I already knew that whole food diets optimize nutrition and minimize waste. Having a background in agriculture, direct marketing, food service, and mechanical engineering, I started connecting the dots on how to make plant pure foods more accessible.

What was the inspiration behind NexVeg? How did you come up with the idea?

NexVeg is the manifestation of aligning my past and altruistic values and meaningful actions. It started when my local food-focused catering business developed a specialty veggie burger for a local principled restaurant. This veggie burger, now branded NexVeg™, is a combination of plant-based whole foods lightly combined into a delicious easy-to-use, and formable, ready-to-cook restaurant-quality center-of-plate protein. Yet, having a non-allergenic clean label meant everyone that entered the restaurant could eat the prodcut. The public started to tell us how good it was. Restaurateurs began calling to serve it on their menu’s and it took off from there. We continue to make all product development and distribution decisions with a focus on trending to a truly sustainable, zero waste and regenerative food systems – the best possible future for our food.

What makes NexVeg different from other plant-based meats available today?

We work almost exclusively in food service with chefs and restaurateurs who have a different lens on the challenges and opportunities in plant-based dining. While taste and price are table stakes for any food product to succeed, our customers tell us that our ability to provide versatile options that align with a real food value proposition is a big advantage.

A new customer recently shared that they had tried different plant-based proteins over several years and, whether it was allergens or just unknown ingredients, none seemed to match the pure whole food essence of their top-shelf menu, and what their consumers expected from their brand.

NexVeg Hemp & Seed came to the table with 2x the protein of the nut-burger they were previously serving. Because NexVeg is the only certified whole food plant-based protein on the market, they were able to introduce better burgers, bowls, and wraps that aligned incredibly well with the type of quality product their consumers expected from the brand. By putting NexVeg™ on the menu, our client doubled sales in 90 days and validated that the quality of ingredients does matter to their customers.

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What problem are you solving for food producers?

Most of our clients had considered veggie burgers a necessary evil rather than a valued opportunity. Most restaurant owners and chefs didn’t choose to eat them themselves. Historically, they’ve been made from substandard ingredients and lacked the culinary versatility to support their well-curated and otherwise predominately real food menus. Recently, products striving to resemble meats have stimulated demand and consumer interest in plant-based dining. At the same time from the restaurateur’s point of view of these alternatives cost up to 400% more than commercial ground beef and have a limited shelf life, leaving thin margins on the table.

That said, not having a plant-forward menu strategy is no longer an option. The question is how to satisfy the vegans, plant-focused meat reducers, and flexitarians, all without giving up flavor or profitability?

All of our clients have found that plant-based dishes demonstrate value. Today, many of them are finding that offering a multi-protein menu adds at least as much value to the plant-based menu as it does when you’d add chicken to your beef menu.

By offering multiple plant-based protein choices, one of our clients was able to use sales to evaluate the response and satisfy one of the highest-volume, most diverse audiences in the country with a single menu. This approach resulted in 100 plant-based meals per day in a single restaurant that otherwise serves beef, chicken, and pork!

Picture1-2“We were using NexVeg in 2018 and people liked it. At year-end, a LAF Menu strategy consultant came on-site to help us identify trends and evaluate menu options, offered preparation tips and training. By restructuring the menu in 2019 so that NexVeg items were more than just a substitute patty on a burger, we saw a 4 –fold increase in sales of plant-based items and the majority was new business! Our menu continues to satisfy one of the largest most diverse audiences anywhere while furthering our sustainability initiatives.”
Chef Justin Warnat – Executive Chef, Yavapai Lodge Grand Canyon National Park, Delaware North Corporation 

Where is the food service industry headed going forward?

Plant-based foods, and the consumers who prefer them, represent a significant opportunity for the foodservice industry. To learn more about optimizing the value of your plant-based menu, check out our recent blog post: The Plant-Based Market: The Future of Foodservice, or click here to schedule a customized menu consultation and tasting.

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