The most recent results of B.GOOD’s annual customer survey confirmed what executive chef Linh Aven already knew: Flexitarianism (meat eaters choosing to eat vegan or vegetarian for some meals) is on the rise. Over 40 percent of the 77-unit brand’s customers say that they sometimes or always eat vegetarian, and nearly 25 percent say that they sometimes or always eat vegan.

Thus, more plant-based innovation was necessary to keep customers satisfied.

QSR spoke with Aven about her approach to building a menu for everyone, and how B.GOOD is innovating in the plant-based protein space. 

What does B.GOOD hope to achieve with its plant-based menu items?

In general, we strive to have something for everyone on our menu—that includes omnivores, vegans, and vegetarians alike. But something for everyone also means that not everything is for everyone. When we develop new plant-based products, we’re designing them for customers who are naturally eating plant-based proteins, but it’s always nice when items like our eggplant meatballs that are targeted for plant-based eaters are also enjoyed by omnivores.

As flexitarian lifestyles are growing, these meatballs are an easy way for people to reduce their meat consumption without sacrificing taste. The eggplant has the same heartiness and texture as meat. They’re diced, roasted, shaped, and breaded, then the meatballs are lightly deep fried and finished in the oven. They’re topped with marinara sauce and real parmesan cheese and are featured on our spaghetti and meatballs bowl, but you can also order them as a side. In late May, we introduced a smaller portion of our spaghetti and meatballs to the kids menu.

In what other ways are you exploring plant-based proteins?

We launched our Mocha Protein smoothie in January. It has 20 grams of all-natural protein. Instead of using artificial ingredients or a processed protein powder, we chose whole-food ingredients that are naturally high in protein like almonds, chia, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and oats. This is a great option for pre- or post-workout, or you can use it as a plant-based meal replacement. We also have a Thai noodle salad that we launched system-wide at the end of May. This is a really refreshing and flavorful menu option that combines plant-based proteins with global inspiration. We top it with grilled tofu and a spicy coconut vinaigrette.

As a chef, what naturally protein-packed ingredients are you loving right now?

I really enjoy working with nuts. I think they’re a great way to have a lot of calories and protein packed into a small package. We love using them to top our salads and bowls.
Chickpeas are also really great. They’re super nutritious but not full of fat. We have both marinated chickpeas as well as dry-roasted, salted chickpeas on offerings like our power bowl.

B.GOOD just introduced a new veggie patty in mid-May. Why do you choose to make your own?

This updated veggie patty has less grains, which allows us to add more vegetables like bell peppers, kale, and carrots. You can really see them in the patties. It’s a nice vehicle that you can just drop into any of our burger or sandwich builds. We’ve offered a veggie patty from the beginning, since we started as a better-for-you burgers and fries concept. In the future, we’re looking at some blended burger action, mixing meat with mushrooms for great flavor and texture. We’re not counting out some of the current [plant-based] burgers of the day—we’re always evaluating what our customers are looking for—but, for now, we’re happy doing our own take.

What do vegan and vegetarian guests want out of a plant-based fast-casual experience?

Those that choose to eat plant-based options aren’t really different from other customers. Everyone wants a meal that’s satisfying, tastes great, and leaves you feeling good afterward, both physically and mentally. As plant-protein eaters become more mainstream, I think they’re really looking for options that are directly for them, so they don’t have to make a lot of requests or heavy customization to find something that suits them. In late May, we unveiled a restructured menu that will have even more specific vegan and vegetarian products. q

Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, Story, b.good