The protein category is evolving rapidly, with many operators expanding their offerings beyond traditional choices, especially in the quick-service sector.
Quick-service restaurants are increasingly adding a level of premiumization, with calamari topping the list as the fastest-growing protein (+33%). Calamari is being served at these restaurants both in more traditional ways as an appetizer or side, and in more unconventional applications, including in burritos and as a salad topping.
Plant-based burgers have been appearing on quick-service menus for some time. The plant-forward trend continues to grow, with operators starting to expand more into plant-based poultry (up 22% year over year) with items such as plant-based chicken tenders and chicken sandwiches.
Another shift in proteins is the increasing embrace of global formats and flavours. Greek skewered meat dish, souvlaki, is increasing on menus (+21%), as is Jamaican jerk chicken (+20%). This is part of the larger trend of consumers seeking out exciting and bold new flavours.
While plenty of innovation is taking place in the protein category, classic comfort foods are still showing growth on menus, such as salami (+17%). The protein is often appearing in comfort favourites, including pizza and sub sandwiches.
Source: Technomic Ignite Menu data, Q3 2020-Q3 2021