Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Cathy Nash Holley
July 14, 2019

Veg-centric, plant-forward and plant-based are leading headlines today. Without a doubt, these initiatives are informing modern menu development. The buzz and interest certainly is driven by consumer demand, with younger generations looking to food and food systems as a means to ensure the health and sustainability of both the planet and their bodies. But noble causes aside, this movement would not be succeeding if it weren’t for phenomenal flavor development in the creation of such products and menu items. From chefs menuing showstopping plant-forward fare at the restaurant level to R&D teams delivering on flavor-first objectives in both retail and foodservice products, flavor is indeed fueling the momentum here.

While plant-forward is definitely the theme of the day, traditional meat proteins still maintain their status as menu favorites. However, we’re starting to see a change in the role meat plays in menu development, and this is where it’s getting interesting. There’s a new mindset taking shape when it comes to meat on the menu, and it’s resulting in creative and winning menu strategies. Five years ago, chefs and operators didn’t need to put too much thought into meat-centric menu development—meat as the center of the plate could easily carry the dish. Now, this shift in consumer dining preferences necessitates more consideration and intent to every aspect of the dish, from the portion size to the plant-based components.

So plant-forward is indeed informing a new mindset, even when it comes to meat-based menu development. In Katie Ayoub’s article Meat Lovers Unite, read about how chefs are holding space for meat lovers through plant-forward menu innovations, from meat as a means to ensure there’s “something for everyone” to a creative strategy that builds out the idea of a meat-centric menu item by starting with a plant-based ingredient and ideating from there. That’s a wildly different approach than starting with a meat protein and adding a few traditional sides.

One could view the burger category as a simplified case study of how plant-forward is influencing food products and menu offerings. From plant-based (vegetarian) to a “blended” burger (meat with added plant-based ingredients), burgers could be seen as a natural evolution of our eating habits. In Plant Power, we look at how the burger is the natural stepping-off point for plant-based offerings, with its familiarity making it a safe starting point for plant-forward menu moves.

Plants are indeed the shining stars of both media and menus today, but menu developers need to ensure they’re not losing sight of the critical role meats play, even with plant-forward taking the lead.

Cathy Nash Holley
[email protected] | @GetFlavor

From the July-August 2019 issue of Flavor & The Menu magazine

About The Author


Cathy Nash Holley has been publisher and editor-in-chief of Flavor & The Menu magazine since it began nearly 18 years ago. Cathy started her publishing career with Diversified Business Communications, where she worked as an editor for Seafood Business and National Fisherman magazines. In 1998, she joined Media Unlimited Inc., to develop Flavor & The Menu, taking over as owner in 2013. In addition to overseeing the magazine, Cathy gives presentations on flavor trends at industry events, and also serves as President of the International Foodservice Editorial Council. Cathy hails from the Oregon Coast, but for the last 20+ years has lived in Maine with her husband Lex and teenage twins. She enjoys travelling, hikes with her dog Freeda and downtime with the family, and good food or drink, especially anything with Mexican flavor profiles and a cocktail with either Mezcal or St-Germain.