Plant-based protein alternatives to beef burgers, like this one, are rising in popularity.

Do you know what consumers want to eat? If you guessed plant-based protein, alternative milks and nut butters, sustainable foods or sprouted grains, you’re on the money, dietitian Marie Molde said during our recent dining trends webinar.

The webinar, called “The New Healthy Healthy,” showcased popular menu trends. Molde, who works for food marketing research firm Datassential, said anything “healthy” is popular. Here’s what doesn’t attract as much interest anymore:

  • Low calorie
  • Low fat
  • Low carb
  • Cholesterol free foods

Two-thirds of consumers say what they eat and drink is important to them. It tops personal fulfillment and ranks ahead of career fulfillment, spirituality and religion. And when it comes to making food choices, consumers are about overall longevity, sustained energy and mental sharpness.

Datassential research illustrates five big trends:

Plant-based foods

A chia pudding cup with fresh berries

Veggies, fruits, nuts, beans and legumes top the foods perceived as healthy, Molde said. In addition, plant-based protein alternatives to beef burgers are on the rise.

One in five U.S. consumers say they’re looking to limit red meat in their diets. Items like black-bean and quinoa patties, falafel and chick peas, are experiencing huge growth. Chia is popular, too. It’s used in baked goods, like muffins, breads and cakes, and Jamba Juice launched a Chia-turmeric Passion Pudding Cup this year as well.

Alternative milks and nut butters

Alternative milks, made from items such as nuts, are gaining in popularity

Molde said there’s been 30-percent growth in “cow-nterfit” non-dairy milks in the last four years. One in 10 menus across America has alternative milks, made with ingredients like soy or nuts, on it.

As far as alternative nut butters go, they’re everywhere. “The popularity of almond butter has increased 121 percent; cashew butter, 998 percent; and pistachio butter, 348 percent. Also, almond butter in smoothies, cookies and baked goods is prolific.”

Sprouted grains

Sprouted grains are becoming more mainstream on menus today

We’re seeing a shift toward sprouted grains, which straddle the line between a seed and a plant and offer a host of health benefits, Molde said. In 2017, Au Bon Pain introduced its Signature Farmhouse Omelet sandwich on toasted sprouted grain bread and Starbucks started offering a sprouted grain vegan bagel.

Sustainable foods

Rubio's recently put fish taco made with sustainable salmon on its menu

Seafood and coffee are the two categories of sustainable foods being marketed most on chain menus now, according to Molde. Rubio’s recently did a salmon taco limited time offer using sustainable salmon and McDonald’s offers sustainable coffee and espresso drinks. “It’s interesting to think about where else we might see this continue within the chain realm because we know it’s not an easy thing for the big operators to achieve.”

What other trends are on the rise? For starters, there’s gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options to focus on. And don’t forget about algae. That’s right. Spirulina, known to fight disease and cancer, is showing up in beverages, smoothies and parfait bowls.

Download the full webinar presentation