MRM Plant-Based: Investor Interest and Impossible Anniversary

Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine is launching a column for plant-based news.  Send news items to Barbara Castiglia at

Record Pace for Plant-Based Investments 

The Good Food Institute (GFI) revealed that 2017 and 2018 were record years for investment in plant-based meat, egg, and dairy and cell-based meat companies. GFI’s State of the Industry reports analyze investment activity within these industries and show that more than $16 billion was invested in U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies over the past 10 years, including $13 billion in 2017 and 2018 alone.

The flurry of investment activity in 2017 and 2018 also included a clear uptick in acquisitions. Since 2009, there were 19 acquisitions of plant-based companies and 10 of these occurred in the past two years. The biggest acquisition took place in 2017 when plant-based milk market leader WhiteWave Foods was acquired by Danone for $12.5 billion.


Although the amount of capital invested decreased from 2017 to 2018 following WhiteWave Foods’ acquisition, the number of deals continued to rise to 46 in 2018, which is a 39 percent increase from the previous year. This increase is part of a steady upward trend in deals completed over the past 10 years.


In 2018, $673 million was invested in plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies. The largest minority investment of 2018 was Impossible Foods’ $189 million late-stage VC round which included an additional $50 million in debt financing earlier in the year. This was followed by Ripple’s $65 million Series C round, Beyond Meat’s $50 million Series H round, and Califia Farms’ $50 million private equity round.


To quantify this investment activity, GFI used the PitchBook Data platform to conduct a custom analysis of investments in U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, and cell-based meat companies across the globe.


GFI found that 2018 was a record year for investment in the nascent cell-based meat industry, with 12 cell-based meat companies raising capital worth $50 million in 14 deals.


This was double the capital invested in 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined. At the end of 2018, a total of $73 million in capital had been invested since the field emerged as a commercial industry in 2015.


In 2018, 11 new cell-based meat companies were founded, bringing the total number of companies to publicly announce themselves to 27.


The top three funded cell-based meat companies, Memphis Meats ($22 MM), CUBIQ Foods ($14 MM), and Mosa Meat ($9 MM), have all announced that they expect to start selling products in 2021.


“Investors and entrepreneurs are capitalizing on a global shift in the way meat is produced. The market opportunity here is massive,” said GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich.


“Shifting consumer values have created a favorable market for alternatives to animal-based foods, and we have already seen fast-paced growth in this space across retail and foodservice markets.”


According to Nielsen data compiled by GFI, retail sales of plant-based meat grew 23 percent between 2017-2018 and exceeded $760 million, while total U.S. retail food sales grew just 2 percent.


The largest and most developed plant-based category is plant-based milk, which accounts for $1.8 billion in sales and represents 13 percent of the total U.S. retail milk market. Once plant-based meat reaches market share parity with plant-based milk, the market could be worth more than $10 billion.


“With global demand for meat set to double by 2050, capturing even a fraction of this burgeoning market would represent a massive opportunity for both plant-based and cell-based meat companies,” said GFI Director of Innovation Brad Barbera. “These industries are accelerating rapidly, and we are about to see them take off. There is a great deal of momentum, which has been brought about by product innovation, greater emphasis on quality, more investment, and a change in consumer values. There is still so much growth possible, and there are great opportunities that come with that. Investors and entrepreneurs recognize the vast market opportunity on offer to get involved while these industries take form.”


Consumer interest in cell-based meat is already strong, with a 2018 survey of 3,030 consumers finding that 30 percent of U.S. consumers, 59 percent of Chinese consumers, and 50 percent of Indian consumers were very or extremely likely to purchase cell-based meat regularly.

Meatless Monday Promotion

The Monday blues are over at any Love Serve Remember location as the plant-based restaurant group in Southern California that includes Café Gratitude, Gracias Madre, and Gratitude Kitchen & Bar announced a new promotion called Meatless Mondays starting May 13. This will provide guests a 50-percetn discount on select menu items each Monday for the next three months. 


While Love Serve Remember already sticks to serving up the highest quality food with a focus on organic, farm fresh, and locally grown ingredients, the goal of the promotion is to further encourage and educate guests on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet both for personal health and for the environment. 

By eating just one plant-based meal per day instead of meat, you could save 2.5 pounds of carbon output, 133 gallons of water, and 24 square feet of land (source), while each day you leave meat off your plate you can reduce your carbon footprint by over 8 pounds (source). If a family eliminates meat and dairy for one day per week, it would be the same as not driving a car for five weeks (source). 

To kick off Meatless Mondays on May 13th, the first menu items to be discounted will feature restaurant favorites at each location. Café Gratitude will feature the Committed Pulled Mushroom Sandwich and the Smokin’ Chili Bowl as their discounted offers. Gratitude Kitchen & Bar will showcase the Enthusiastic Fried Chicken Sandwich for lunch and the Elevated Fried Chicken Plate for dinner. Gracias Madre will discount their Crab Torta at lunch and Mushroom Fajitas, top photo, for dinner. 

Discounted menu items will be updated frequently at each location. These locations are Larchmont, Venice, Arts District, and San Diego for Café Gratitude, Newport Beach and Beverly Hills for Gratitude Kitchen & Bar, and the West Hollywood plant-based Mexican staple Gracias Madre. The discount is limited to members of the Gratification Program for the restaurants. Those not already a member of the Gratification Program can  sign up at any Love Serve Remember location free of charge. 

As an added bonus to the promotion, each restaurant will provide those that participate with a complementary Meatless Mondays temporary tattoo. There will be multiple versions of these tattoos guests are encouraged to try and collect,

Copper Branch Opens 50th Location

Copper Branch, based in Montreal, Canada, is the largest plant-based restaurant chain in the world opened their 50th location the week of Earth Day with locations in Canada, the United States and Western Europe. Their mission is to serve the world healthy, hearty and delicious plant-based alternatives to fast food. All of their food, products, packaging and restaurant interiors are focused on environmental responsibility.

They are also proud of their partnership with Rainforest Trust, not just for Earth Day but all year long. Every time a Copper Branch customer uses their My Copper Branch Rewards loyalty card a portion of their order is directly donated to Rainforest Trust . The company estimates that the partnership has saved over 1,000 acres of rainforest land around the world. In addition, they have entered into a partnership with One Tree Planted, an organization that supports global reforestation.

 World Conference in June

The Plant Based World Conference & Expo will feature leading plant-based food industry companies like Founding Partner, Follow Your Heart; Gold Sponsors 22 Days Nutrition, No Evil Foods, and Good Catch Foods; and Silver Sponsors Daiya, Tofurky and Miyoko's Kitchen. Other Sponsors include Dr. Praeger's, Ingredion and Upton's Naturals. The conference is being held June 7–8 at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.  The exhibitor list is fast nearing 100 companies for the event.. Click here to register.

Among topics to be addressed include:

  •  How to Menu for the Flexitarian Consumer: The number of consumers identifying as flexitarians is rapidly increasing, and food service establishments risk losing out on business if they cannot provide options for this audience. Even with that understanding there comes a whole slew of unique challenges. This diverse panel will discuss the best ways to add plant-based options to the menu with your client-base in mind.
  • Plant-Based Milks: Trends, Innovations and What's Next for the Hottest Segment in the Space: The dairy alternative space has exploded in the past few years with plant-based milks now representing 15 percent of the total milk market. This panel will focus on what's next in the plant-based milk space, and how established and new brands can take advantage of this growing segment, innovating with alternative non-dairy bases, unique flavors, applications, enhanced nutrition profiles, and beyond.
  • Would You like to Try the Plant-based Option? Trends and Opportunities in Food Service : Whether it's a 100 percent vegan burger joint, an upscale restaurant adding plant-based menu options, or a classic fast food chain that's decided to add a vegan product to their menu, plant-based foods are becoming more prominent in the world of restaurants and food service. Around 40 percent  of Americans order plant-based options in restaurants and eateries that introduce vegan or plant-based items on their menus often see a great increase in sales. This panel will focus on brands and companies that are captivating this new trend and working to provide a more diverse set of options for a wide audience.
  • Culinary Workshop: The Philosophical Shift Towards a Plant-Based Kitchen:  Understanding plant-based cooking requires a fundamental overhaul of everything you've ever known as a chef or restaurant professional. Brad Barnes of The Culinary Institute of America specialized in helping culinary and food service professionals grasp this concept in a way that allows their careers and businesses to thrive like never before.
  • Case Studies in Retail (Tesco) and Restaurants (Bareburger): Chef-Driven Plant-Based Prepared Foods Developed for a Grocery Chain (Tesco)  Tesco recently brought on plant-based chef Derek Sarno to help develop a line of plant-based prepared foods to be sold in stores across the UK. This discussion will focus on the process of developing items for the line and will track the success and growth of Wicked Kitchen as an example of how other major retailers can capitalize on plant-based trends to diversify their clientele and expand offerings.  Plant-Based Menu Items at a Fast Casual Burger Joint (Bareburger)  The fast-casual burger joint is a staple of American culture. New York based chain, Bareburger, is leading the way in maintaining the atmosphere and flavor that is typical of a burger restaurant while also integrating a diverse range of plant-based options. This case study will dive into the success that Bareburger has had generating over 25% of it's business from the plant-based side of the menu. 
  • The Future of Seafood: Opportunities in Plant-Based and Cellular Aquaculture: Within the alternative protein space, seafood is the most underserved category. This panel will discuss innovation in the plant-based food space to create superior seafood products that can be used in a variety of applications from sushi to sandwiches as well as get into the promising new world of cellular-aquaculture.

Greenleaf Partners with Dot Foods

Greenleaf Foods, SPC and its brands, Lightlife Foods and Field Roast, opened a sales channel with Dot Foods, the U.S.’s largest food industry redistributor. Lightlife and Field Roast products will be available to many of Dot Food’s approximate 4,500 distribution customers on May 15, representing channels that include foodservice, retail and convenience. The partnership offers restaurateurs access to a broader set of options, as exploding interest in plant-based foods continues to impact menus across North America.

“Our brands have earned a loyal fanbase through uncompromising taste and cutting-edge innovation. As more consumers enter the plant-based category, we want to ensure they can find our products everywhere. Dot Foods offers the scale, reach and trusted relationships to help us fulfill that goal,” said Dan Curtin, president of Greenleaf Foods, SPC.

Seven Lightlife products will be available through the Dot Foods, including Lightlife’s newly launched plant-based burger—the Lightlife® Burger. With the same great taste and juicy texture as traditional beef, the Lightlife® Burger packs 20g of plant-based protein per serving, with fewer, more familiar ingredients and less saturated fat than products currently on market. Other Lightlife products available across channels include Italian Smart Ground, Original Smart Ground, Smokey Tempeh, Organic Soy Tempeh, Smart Dogs (Jumbo), and Gimme Lean Sausage.


Eight products from Field Roast will also be available. Field Roast uses whole food ingredients—grains, vegetables, legumes and spices—to craft flavor-forward, artisanal, plant-based meat and Chao Creamery cheese products. Products available through Dot include Apple Sage Sausage, Frankfurter, Italian Sausage, Chao Creamy Original Slices, FieldBurger, Mexican Chipotle Sausage, Porcini Dijon Cutlet and Coconut Breaded Cutlet.

Noodles Expands Zoodles

 Noodles & Company expanded its lighter menu offerings with two new Zoodles-based menu items. The positive guest response to Zoodles, which first landed on the menu in May 2018, has allowed guests to enjoy the flavors they know and love as well as discover new ones with all the benefits of a healthier zucchini noodle.

Noodles also announced the launch of a new personalized nutrition calculator available on the Noodles website and app where users can effortlessly create dishes to meet their dietary lifestyles, from keto to paleo and vegetarian to gluten-friendly, and everything in between. Noodles fans can now enjoy worldly flavors any way they want them. 

"We listened to guest feedback after launching Zoodles last year, and because the response was so favorable, we've created a new category on the menu called 'Zoodles and Other Noodles' and expanded the number of unique dishes our guests can order incorporating zucchini noodles," said Jonathan Tress, vice president of marketing at Noodles & Company. "New dishes like Zucchini & Asparagus and Zucchetti expand our plant-based dishes at Noodles to allow guests to truly enjoy our food even when healthy eating is top of mind." 

Finding flavorful, healthy options while eating out is high on the priority list for Americans right now. A survey conducted by Wakefield Research with Noodles found 52 percent of people want to eat more veggies this summer and make steps toward a healthier lifestyle, but 53 percent feel healthy eating habits often fall apart when dining out. With plant-forward dishes and the ability to customize your meal, Noodles helps keep healthy habits on track.

"Our new spring dishes are fresh, light choices and allow our guests to explore bold new flavors we're confident they'll love," said Nick Graff, executive chef at Noodles & Company. "We're especially excited about the innovation that went into creating the Zuchetti & Asparagus dish, which satisfies pasta lovers and incorporates the extra veggies our guests are looking for."

The zucchini noodle dishes and ingredients include:

  1. Zucchini & Asparagus with Lemon Sauce: Zucchini noodles and fresh asparagus in a tangy lemon cream sauce with Roma tomatoes and roasted zucchini. Topped with toasted breadcrumbs and parsley.
  2. Zucchetti in White Wine Garlic Sauce with Balsamic Chicken: A 50/50 combination of zucchini noodles and spaghetti noodles in a white wine garlic sauce with balsamic chicken, roasted zucchini, Roma tomatoes, spinach, onion and basil. Finished with Parmesan cheese and lemon.

"Noodles is a culinary-led company and the zucchini noodle has allowed us to show that any of our globally inspired flavors can be enjoyed as a healthy choice," said Dave Boenninghausen, chief executive officer of Noodles & Company. "Zoodles taste great, with lower calories and carbs, and our guests are loving them. Health-conscious guests are coming back, and new guests are trying us out."

Veggie Grill Springs to Boston

Veggie Grill is introducing its first restaurant in the Boston area in Cambridge adjacent to Harvard Square. The new Veggie Grill restaurant marks the second East Coast market location for the brand.

Since its inception in 2006, Veggie Grill has opened 31 locations in California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois. “In 2019, we are gearing up for extensive expansion plans, including establishing an East Coast presence,” says Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley. “Today, consumers across the country are more mindful about what they eat and the demand for veggie-centric food continues to accelerate. Students and faculty as well as local residents are looking for more veggie-based food, which is why the new location–just steps away from Harvard University–is ideal for the brand.”

Cambridge is a vibrant community that has been the nexus of the plant-based movement in the Boston area. Harvard Square specifically is a bustling neighborhood for Veggie Grill to open in and the brand will bring its favorites to this location, including the VG Beyond Burger, Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’, Sonoran Bowl, Mediterranean Supergreens Salad, and more, company officials said. 

Nozzarella Pizza Cheese Alternative

Fuji Plant Protein Labs (FPPL), a manufacturer of 100 percent vegan, plant-based, and non-dairy cheese, is launching their Nozzarella™ brand into the commercial food service and pizza markets.
Nozzarella is a plant-based cheese alternative for the foodservice and pizza markets in North America. It supports the growing trend of chefs focusing on plant-based recipes. Early seeding has produced some incredible results. Restaurateur Tony Gemignani, a 13-time World Pizza Champion integrates Nozzarella at his Pizza Rock restaurant Pizza Rock in Las Vegas, NV.
Gemignani is incorporating Nozzarella into his pizza creations because of its ease of use in his current kitchen setup. Its creamy consistency and the way it picks up flavor are different from most other vegan and plant-based cheeses. Customers to Pizza Rock now have a better choice from a wide creative variety of pizzas that Gemignani serves.
Nozzarella cheese is a non-dairy, non-GMO, soy-based product produced with FPPL’s patented Ultra Soy Separation process (USS). Targeted toward a growing plant-based food category to offer new possibilities for chefs and foodservice searching for a vegan or vegetarian alternative to dairy products. Fuji Plant Protein Labs achieves their goal to match real cheese in texture, consistency, and flavor using their patented USS process.
Nozzarella is produced from low-fat soy milk that is extracted using Fuji Oil’s Ultra Soy Separation process. Utilizing a method similar to that used to separate fresh milk the soy mash is separated yielding low-fat soy milk and other soy products. Separation is made possible by using Fuji Oil’s unique fractionation technology producing cream and low-fat soy milk. Adding lactic acid bacteria to the low-fat soy milk produces a cheese alternative that is creamy, low-fat and low in cholesterol. This process is not possible using ordinary soy milk.

Little Beet in Miami

The Little Beet, a plant inspired fast-casual restaurant, opened its newest restaurant in the Aventura Mall, marking the concept’s first location in Florida. Opened April 1 and located at 19501 Biscayne Blvd., The Little Beet will provide guests with plant inspired, gluten free, unique flavor combinations and high-quality ingredients. 

Since The Little Beet’s founding in 2014, the New York-based restaurant brand has grown to nine locations across the East coast with locations in Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Miami, Washington, D.C. and Arlington. The Little Beet at Aventura Mall will be the wellness brand’s tenth location. The Little Beet plans to open 15 more restaurants by the end of 2020.

“We’re aggressively looking to expand in new, exciting markets and Aventura Mall presents the perfect location for our brand,” said Becky Mulligan, CEO of The Little Beet. “Our menu items at the South Florida-based location will range from Yuzu Poké Bowls and Chef Made Bowls to a Make Your Own Plate concept that includes a choice of three veggies, one protein, a sauce and garnish.”

Chickenless Nuggets in Schools

Don Lee Farms introduced Chickenless Nuggets and Breaded Chickenless Patties, replacing the need for chickens to make kid-favorite nuggets with replantable proteins. 


“We have years of experience turning proteins from plants into breakthrough items. We also know how to create the experience meat eaters expect from plant-based alternatives. We combined those core competencies with our leading position in meat proteins in the School Lunch Program,” said Donald Goodman, President, Don Lee Farms. “Since I started making proteins for schools in the early 1980s, we have had a firm understanding of how hard it is for schools to meet the demands of ever-changing nutrition requirements, kids’ expectations and restricted budgets. To meet those challenges, we came up with a solution to each one. The biggest hurdle was price. Instead of waiting for pricing to come down, we used our market position, buying power and our leadership in innovation to make chickenless items a better value than traditional nuggets. In most cases, our price for these items are at or below what chicken nuggets cost schools today.”

The company says the price of plant-based foods are projected to continue to drop as more districts choose plant-based proteins over meat proteins for environmental, health and cost reasons.

Danny Goodman, Development, Don Lee Farms, said, “Putting aside the environmental and health benefits, which are incredible, these products are just as delicious as their meat-based equivalents. The idea that we are winning over kids who regularly eat and love traditional chicken nuggets with our new plant-based chickenless items, is really the breakthrough.” He continued, “We foresee a near future where plant-based nuggets will replace the need for schools to source chicken to make nuggets. For the first time, the option is now a reality starting in the 2019 school year.”

The new items will be launching just in time for the 2019 school year and are available for schools to purchase beginning in the Summer.

Plant-Protein Toppings at Pieology

California-based pizza innovator Pieology is taking a bold step toward expanding pizza further into the healthy category by becoming the first fast-casual pizza brand to offer customers not just one, but three new “meat” toppings made of high-quality plant proteins that taste and look just like the real deal.

Following the successful launch of a new menu with six premium crusts, the widest selection of offerings in the segment, Pieology continues to expand its menu innovation appealing to new audiences. The company methodically internalizes consumer feedback to deliver on-trend offerings for its personally-inspired next-gen pizzas. The new “Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds,” “Beef Meatball” and “Diced Chicken” toppings are vegan, non-GMO verified, contain no cholesterol or soluble fats, and are packed with protein. Premium plant-base toppings will cost an additional one-dollar per ounce.

“Although vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians will love the new pizza options, the premium toppings are a healthy choice for anyone who wants to enjoy a new style of protein,” said Pieology’s Vice President of Marketing Chad Bailey. “Over the last few decades, culinary innovation has greatly advanced in the area of plant-based proteins bringing their taste and texture to a remarkable meat-like level. Even our non-vegan guests have been shocked at how tasty our premium plant proteins are and how well they pair with pizza. We’re pleased to be able to serve creativity and provide our guests with a broader assortment of delicious, high-quality toppings than ever before.” 

The company already offers customers its Premium Plant Toppings at 24 locations in California and Las Vegas and starting on February 12thwill offer them at all continental locations and Guam. 

"Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds” are full of protein – about 14 grams per 3oz serving – and are flavorfully seasoned, juicy with a pinch of spice; “Beef Meatball” is tender, tastes and browns like real beef, and contains about 14 grams of protein per serving; while the “Diced Chicken” topping is mild and contains about 20 grams per serving.

Bell Joins @TheTinyChefShow Team

Kristen Bell’s production company with Morgan Sackett and Dean Holland, Dunshire Productions, has joined forces with @TheTinyChefShow.


The Tiny Chef’s short animations and films posted on Instagram (and Youtube) have become a phenomenon since starting this past September. Fans call themselves “Mother Cheffers” and span children aged 1-99 including quite a few celebrities. The Tiny Chef character (voiced by Matt Hutchinson) is brought to life through a combination of stop motion and live action storytelling techniques by co-creators Rachel Larsen, Ozlem “Ozi” Akturk and Adam Reid.
Dunshire Productions will employ a bold digital strategy to bring @TheTinyChefShow to a wider audience. Bell explains, “The Tiny Chef is pure joy. He exists with the sole goal of bringing smiles to people's faces through his love language: cooking. It’s one of the most raw forms of happiness I have ever stumbled upon and I think he's exactly what we need right now.” The Chef himself added, “Mabery mesided da ckook fingsup wif Mish Jackie Tohn’s fren Mish Kwisden!!!!”
@TheTinyChefShow has grown an Instagram following of more than 350K in just six months of sharing his plant-based recipes.

Impossible One-Year Anniversary

White Castle, A is offering the newly formulated Impossible Slider at all restaurants across the country. On April 12, 2018, White Castle became the first fast-food chain to offer the Impossible Slider. One year later, the protein-packed slider made from plants is even juicier, beefier and tastier than before and is available for customers with all Cravings for just $1.99. White Castle has also begun experimenting with different flavor combinations to take the Impossible Slider to the next level.   

White Castle and Impossible Foods, the company behind the Impossible Burger, first brought the Impossible Slider to Cravers one year ago when the slider made from plants was added to 140 White Castle menus in New York, New Jersey and Chicago. After exceeding projections and inciting a social media frenzy, the Impossible Slider was rolled out to all restaurants in September 2018.


“As a 98-year-old family-owned business, White Castle has a number of milestones that are very important to us,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president at White Castle. “But the launch of the Impossible Slider is particularly special because of the immediate impact it had. Adding this burger made from plants has been a huge leap in establishing White Castle as a slider provider for all tastes and preferences.” 

The Impossible Slider’s new recipe was unveiled at CES 2019 in Las Vegas, where the product won several awards including “Most Unexpected Product,” “Most Impactful Product,” and the show’s most coveted “Best of the Best” award. 

White Castle’s Impossible Slider is now more delicious, more nutritious and more versatile than ever. The new recipe offers Cravers a source of high quality protein with even more taste that’s nearly indistinguishable from traditional beef.  

“Now that we’ve accomplished what many thought was impossible, we can’t wait to see how customers respond to an even juicier, beefier and tastier version,” said Richardson.