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Plant-based dining continues to grow


It wasn’t that long ago that vegan businesses were unheard of in Baton Rouge. While they’re still modest in number, vegan and vegetarian offerings continue to gain traction.

It’s not that more people are opting fully into these lifestyles. Some certainly are. But no matter their culinary proclivities, a larger number of local diners are incorporating at least some plant-based eating.

“There’s definitely more curiosity about plant-based foods,” says Maria Howard, who founded Plant Based Foods By Lotus, a vegan dessert company, with her husband, Allen Howard. “A lot of our customers are not even vegan.”

A few years ago, the Howards decided to go vegan to take better care of themselves. Allen was the first to change his diet, and Maria soon followed. They mastered making their favorite savory dishes in vegan form, and then spent a lot of time developing vegan alternatives to Dutch apple pie, pop-tarts and other favorite baked goods.

What started as a lifestyle choice turned into a business venture. The couple began selling sweets at community pop-up events and food truck round-ups near Southern University. They started an Instagram account and participated in the Mid City Makers Market. They began catering and placed their items in Vegan Friendly Foods and Southern Cofe.

Maria and Allen Howard are the owners of Plant Based Foods By Lotus, a vegan dessert company. File photo

“People were really excited about it, and they started placing orders for birthday cakes, cookies, all kinds of things,” Maria Howard says. “There was also a lot of crossover with people who wanted gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free baked goods.”

Nationally, incorporating at least some plant-based eating is more popular than ever. The No. 2 Best Overall Diet of 2021 in U.S. News and World Report’s annual round-up was the Flexitarian Diet, which balances plant-based and traditional protein consumption. And worldwide sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives reached $29.4 billion in 2020, a number that could increase to $162 billion by 2030, Fortune reported in August.

The trend is apparent in local coffee shops, where customers want soy, oat and almond milk alternatives to traditional dairy, even if they’re not vegetarian.

The mantle of Baton Rouge restaurants serving only vegetarian or vegan still falls to a handful of spots like MJ’s Cafe and Vegan Friendly Foods, but it’s a lot easier for diners to find vegetarian and vegan options on menus. BLDG 5, Cocha, Chow Yum Phat, Duang Tawan Thai, Mestizo, the Bay Leaf and Swagat Indian are all awash with plant-based options, and even upscale spots aren’t an afterthought.

Plant-based eating’s health benefits have made it appeal to a broad audience—who may also now see it as a way to save money. This year, protein prices shot up, due to supply chain and labor issues. With chicken, beef, pork and seafood priced between 20-40% higher than normal, consumers have had extra incentive to eat flexibly.

A shifting market

9%

National increase in the plant-based milk market (such as oat, almond and soy milk) in the last five years. Meanwhile, growth in the dairy industry was down by 6%.

1,320%

Increase in plant-based meat substitutes on foodservice menus from before the pandemic began. Researchers say the combination of COVID-19 health concerns and climate change have led more people to opt for plant-based diets.

$20 billion

The projected global market value of plant-based meat products by 2023. That number is expected to grow to $35.5 billion by 2027.


This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of 225 magazine.


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