October 8/Chicago/PRNewswire -- Total menu incidence of vegetables has increased over 11% in the past three years. Not only are these super foods more prevalent in restaurants today, but the most innovative operators are transforming vegetables like eggplant, cauliflower and zucchini into center-of-the-plate options.

"An increase in the price of proteins has given chefs the opportunity to introduce inventive vegetable formats onto the menu," says Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano. "For example, operators have found a variety of uses for kale, and it has grown in total menu incidence by almost 400% over the past five years. Additionally, different preparation methods, like roasting Brussels sprouts or caramelizing root vegetables, have had a big influence on the way vegetables are menued."

"Our new Category Close-Up report on vegetables reveals their growing prominence on menus. Increasingly, vegetables are being offered prime real estate on diners' plates," said Kimberly Perman, senior manager at Technomic. "No longer reserved for the perimeter, vegetables are featured more often in center-of-plate arrangements and, when done right as sides, are stealing the spotlight from protein-based entrées."

Of particular note is the diverse array of methods operators are using to incorporate vegetables into menus. Opportunities remain for the category to grow:

  • More than three-fifths of consumers (64%) agree that it is important to eat healthy and pay attention to nutrition, up from 57% just three years ago.
  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers (65%) agree that restaurants can offer healthy food without sacrificing taste. Operators look to key health-halo terms to suggest healthier dishes. For example, 87% of consumers believe that fresh foods are healthier. Similarly, 87% of consumers say that fresh foods taste better.
  • More than nine out of 10 consumers agree that menu items containing a full serving of vegetables are more healthy.