Plant-based popularity proves powerful in Mid-Michigan

FLINT (WJRT) (1/31/2020) - Whether you're doing it for health, environmental reasons, or just because it tastes good, the meatless meat trend is hotter than ever.

With many key players in the food industry jumping on board and bringing in plant based options, the economic growth of some of those products sky rocketed past the billion dollar mark in 2019.

It wasn't long ago that for a vegan to eat at a fast food restaurant, it was nearly impossible, but that word "impossible" has taken on a whole new meaning.

With Burger King introducing their Impossible Wopper, the plant-based food industry is now worth nearly $5 billion, according to the Good Food Institute.

Locally, culinary professor Matthew Cooper from Mott Community College said this growth is just getting started.

"As a chef we look at trends and we look at fads, and we have to decide if we're going to teach it, is it a trend or is it a fad that will come and go," said Cooper.

He said the growth rate of supply and demand of plant-based foods tells him it's a trend and not a fad.

Through hours of research, many economic outlets like MarketWatch are even predicting the plant based food industry to be worth over $24 billion within the next decade.

"Look at it as an opportunity. That's what restaurants are finally doing," said Cooper.

Big success is obvious for worldwide chains like Burger King, Qdoba and KFC, but in Mid-Michigan restaurants like Blondie's are also seeing the economic benefits of rolling out plant-based options.

"You just opened up the door to a whole other group of people you didn't have the door open to before," said Manager Kara Kunkleman.

The locally owned restaurant said they started with just a few vegan options on their menu, but with big success and high demand they quickly expanded their options.

Now, it's two pages the result of what Kunkleman calls evolution.

"If you think back to when craft beer was such a new thing and there were so many people who said "no craft beer". Now look at it, its huge. I think its the same thing with plant based," said Kunkleman.

While some are just dipping their toes into the plant-based food world, other local restaurant owners like Jacquie Allen have invested their entire financial future into the industry.

"I think any business is a little rocky when you first start off but every year its getting better and better," said Allen.

Even as a vegan herself, she questioned whether putting that word out there was going to hurt or help her business.

"It took me a long time to put the V word up on the wall, because a lot of people shy away when they hear vegan," said Allen.

According to Cooper, the meatless meat trend is gaining popularity and showing staggering growth economically. When breaking down the numbers, he said it's also saving most restaurant owners money in the long run to prepare plant-based options.

"Look at your main staples and main proteins, just how expensive they're becoming. So some of these things are more economical," said Cooper. "It's just supply and demand. The farmers are wonderful and the more we ask for it the more they're going to supply it to us."

While a plant-based lifestyle may not be for everyone, the sustainability and economic impact of the products have the possibility to change the future of the food industry.