Vegetarianism has been a major part of the foodservice industry for an interminable amount of time. It’s become so popular, the majority of restaurants have created a vegetarian or vegan option for their most popular dishes. During the Han dynasty, tofu was invented as a high protein substitute for meat. In Medieval Europe, almonds and grapes were used to create minced faux-meat products during Lent before the meatless alternative process evolved once more in 1877 to introduce nuts, grains, and soy as a way of creating meatless foods. The vegetarian lifestyle became popular in the US in the early ’70s when Frances Moore Lappe published a book called Diet for a Small Planet and the market suddenly had a demand for proteins that did not come from an animal. It wasn’t until the veggie burger was invented in 1982 that food distributors started creating food items traditionally made from animals (i.e., bacon, burgers, & now cheese) using nuts and vegetables instead.

Now, nearly eight million Americans consider themselves to be some form of vegetarian, and the meatless protein industry has boomed. In the last year, meat alternative products increased sales by 268% in 2019, and restaurants offering a meatless option has risen 26.4% since 2017. Blaze Pizza added a vegan Spicy Chorizo topping to its pizzas available in all 300 locations earlier this year, Del Taco’s 580 sites now offer plant-based meat options in its tacos, and Chipotle Mexican Grill has had a Vegan selection since 2014. Recently, food industry giants Burger King, Red Robin, and White Castle have added an animal-free alternative to their menus in addition to the thousands of restaurants realizing a meatless substitute is crucial to stay current.

The two leading meat alternative companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been struggling in recent months to meet the demands of the industry as more consumers request meatless alternatives. Chain Store Guide collects data on over 19,000 restaurants, many of whom are starting to realize the potential in offering vegetarian options to their most popular dishes. The shortage by the two leading companies has opened the door for countless suppliers looking to sell their meatless alternative product to restaurants as new menu items are added daily in hopes of enticing vegan and vegetarian diners.