Local establishments continue expanding meatless products as demand grows

Although vegetarian or even vegan options at area grocery stores or on restaurant menus are not usually as prevalent as items like hamburgers or steaks, businesses and grocers said they are continuing to expand their meatless products as the push for plant-based diets continues to grow.

“We have seen a rather large increase in customers adding plant-based proteins to their diets over the past year,” said Tina Potthoff, senior vice president of communications at Hy-Vee. “This category does not appear to be a food trend but rather a lifestyle choice.”

Potthoff said Hy-Vee’s demand for meat substitutes has doubled in the past year.

During the past decade, meatless options like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have popped up in fast food restaurants, while similar options have emerged at grocery stores.

Hy-Vee carries a handful of meat substitute brands but continues to expand its options as more become available, Potthoff said.

Beyond Meat first launched in 2009 and is based out of Los Angeles. Since its start, the company has continued to grow.

Leslie Shalabi, co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead in Dubuque, said when she opened her restaurant she wanted to make sure it was as inclusive as possible. For her, that meant ensuring she had not only vegetarian options but also vegan.

“I wanted to make sure to be as inclusive as possible and that was one of the ways that we did that,” she said.

Shalabi said her restaurant makes veggie burgers and other plant-based protein alternatives. Through the years, she has seen the push for meatless food choices grow in the area.

“I think many more people are seeing the benefits of limiting meat intake,” she said. “It doesn’t mean necessarily that they are full vegetarians. I just think people are seeing meatless Mondays and are just cutting back for both health and environmental reasons as well.”

Dede Livingston, owner of Durty Gurts in Galena, Ill., said she has been serving the same meatless burger for 14 years. For her restaurant, it’s not vegetarian options that she has seen a demand for but gluten free.

“We do see a lot more gluten issues,” she said. “We’ve seen a big swing in gluten allergies. We have needed to revamp things over the past 10 years.”

Andrew Weis, head chef at Hops & Rye in Dubuque, said the restaurant has one veggie burger on the menu. Although it is not the most popular item, the people who do order it are very thankful to have a meatless choice, he said.

“People definitely want that option and it definitely gives you a little variety on the menu,” he said. “There is definitely a demand, though.”

Kim Wolff, owner of Pepper Sprout Midwest Cuisine, said her restaurant is known for farm-to-table options so she gets a lot of requests for meatless meals. She encourages customers to call ahead and let her know if they want a vegan or vegetarian dish.

“We do curry vegetable, eggplant parmesan and a black bean burger,” she said. “I have done acorn squash.”

When L. May Eatery in Dubuque first opened, it offered one or two vegetarian items but has since expanded to include several vegetarian, vegan and even gluten free meals as the demand for meatless options increases, said restaurant owner said E.J. Droessler.

“We really try to work hard on the vegan and vegetarian side,” he said. “It is still the Midwest, and I get that. It just opened up another door for us. It just gives us another avenue and another group of clientele.”

Droessler said L. May did consider buying products like Beyond Meat, but instead plans to stick with making its vegetarian options using cauliflower, black beans and other foods that can mimic a meat-like consistency or flavor.

“I just wish everyone would embrace this,” he said. “A lot of people eat the way they eat because it makes them feel good.”