With 2019 on the horizon, the lists of upcoming “TOP TRENDS” fill our inboxes like unwanted holiday catalogs in the mailbox. But hold up, perhaps there is some meat to these lists…or maybe not.

The new year promises to be filled with more and more diners trading in their beloved meats for plant-based proteins. And we’re not talking side-salads and mirepoix…veggies are taking over the center-of-the plate disguised as tacos and burgers. GASP!

According to Ventura Foods, choosing not to eat meat is no longer a diet, but rather a way of life. It is an expression of today’s younger consumer’s value system.

Just who are these menu movers and shakers? Semi-vegetarians and flexitarians (those who eat meat occasionally) are growing in numbers, and their diets are influencing friends, family and their restaurant choices.

Chefs and operators must look for “meaty” vegetable options that will satisfy the carnivore palate without compromising their agenda. In addition to health and food safety concerns, today’s 18- to -34-year-old crowd is also looking for sustainability and social responsibility. Consider it the three “Ps …plants, protein and pay. Kerry Foods, maker of PlantFare, reports Gen Z and Millennials are looking for Plant-based, Protein-rich foods, and they are willing to Pay for them!

And while cauliflower has maintained center-stage this past year, look for increased imitation meat options like veggie-based “Bolognese” to beet “chorizo” and jackfruit “pulled pork.” Roasting, chargrilling and smoking are just a few ways chefs are preparing these new vegetable centric options and calling for higher entrée prices. Pairing these items with delectable sauces and seasonings also brings the consumer a savory and satisfying sensory experience.

Even large chains like The Cheesecake Factory and White Castle are responding with imitation beef offerings. Likewise, savvy independent operators who offer meatless dishes can satisfy this new lifestyle while bringing something new and interesting to everyone at the table.

Welcome in 2019! Plant-based protein is the new black, and meatless menu features will put you in the green!