In the fall of 2018, Jenny Goldfarb suddenly craved a corned beef and pastrami sandwich.

For Ms. Goldfarb – who grew up in a Jewish deli family in New York City – it was the classic sandwich of her youth. But her desire came with a hitch: she’s now vegan.

So she started working with wheat proteins, adding beets for a “meaty” color and soaking the mixture in different brines and spices. After a few months, she had found a vegan substitute. She took her vegan corned beef from her home in the San Fernando Valley to a grocery store in Los Angeles, which placed an order for 50 pounds. She cried tears of joy in her car.

These days, Ms. Goldfarb is shipping orders of up to 50,000 pounds of Unreal Deli corned beef, turkey and, most recently, sliced ​​steak to grocery stores across the country.

“We just got the green light from Publix,” said Ms. Goldfarb. “They want the retail packaging, but they also want to put it in their delicatessens. “

Riding the waves of success from soy, oats and other milk alternatives, as well as vegan burgers made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, a wide variety of plant-based foods appear on restaurant menus. and in the aisles of grocery stores. And now more and more businesses, from small, up-to-date companies to established brands, are looking to join in on the action.

This summer, Panda Express began putting orange chicken made with Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken on menus at some of its locations in the United States. Peet’s Coffee sells a vegan Just Egg breakfast sandwich made with mung beans. New York City soft drink store 16 Handles collaborated with popular drink Oatly to create a line of vegan sweets with flavors like chocolate, chai tea, and iced latte. And seafood chain Long John Silver tested plant-based crab cakes and fish fillets at five locations in California and Georgia this summer.

When Eleven Madison Park, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan, reopened in June after closing over a year ago due to the pandemic, it did so with a new plant-based menu.

“It started with a plant-based burger, but now plant-based options are becoming available in all kinds of categories,” said Marie Molde, dietitian and trend analyst at research firm Datassential. “We think the plant-based chicken is going to really take off.”

Restaurants and grocery stores are responding to the changing demands of consumers who are abandoning meat consumption. Sales of fresh fruit in grocery stores have increased by almost 11% and those of fresh vegetables by 13% since 2019, according to Nielsen IQ. While only a small percentage of Americans are true vegans or vegetarians – in a 2018 Gallup poll, 5% said they were vegetarians – it’s not the audience these new companies and products are looking for.

Rather, they prey on the taste buds of curious vegans or so-called flexitarians, a much larger segment of Americans looking to cut back on the amount of meat they eat. Some shy away from animal cruelty concerns, while others say the environment or perceived health benefits are factors. (Whether plant-based foods, many of which are highly processed, are healthier, is up for debate.)

“It’s not just for vegans – it would be too small a market,” said Mary McGovern, managing director of New Wave Foods, whose seaweed and plant protein shrimp will be on restaurant menus this fall. .

Ms. McGovern sees a much larger audience of millennials, flexitarians and others interested in trying new plant-based foods. “I’ve been in the food industry for 30 years and haven’t seen anything like the tectonic shift we’re seeing in the market right now,” she said.

Just a few years ago, plant-based burgers were a novelty. These days, the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger appear on about 5% of all restaurant menus nationwide, and 71% of Americans have tried a plant-based burger or other meaty alternative, said. Mrs. Molde.

In grocery stores, sales of cheese, cow’s milk and fresh meat alternatives have increased at robust double-digit rates for at least two years, according to Nielsen IQ. Almonds, oats and other non-dairy products account for 14 percent of milk sales.

Restaurants jump on the train with both feet. Orders for plant-based products from major food distributors rose 20% in June compared to the same period in 2019, according to the NPD Group.

Still, attracting flexitarians or occasional vegan consumers can be tricky. They know the taste and texture of real shrimp and turkeys, and if the vegan alternatives aren’t tasty, they won’t come back.

Megan Schmitt from Chicago went from vegetarian to vegan about four years ago and recalled her disappointment with vegan cheese on the market.

“The stuff tasted like cardboard or rubber,” she said. “If you hadn’t eaten cheese in years, that would be nice, but it wasn’t going to satisfy anyone’s taste buds who alternated between the real stuff.”

So Ms. Schmitt started fermenting a variety of nut-based concoctions, then switched to soy for her artisanal Cheeze & Thank You cheeses, including Black Garlic Truffle Fontina and Dill Havarti. They will be available at most Whole Foods stores in the Midwest this fall.

“I like to see my cheese as a canvas,” Ms. Schmitt said. “It’s my art form. I want my product to be a treat for the eyes and the mouth.

Reina Montenegro found herself in a similar situation. For six years, she tried to create a vegan version of the spam that she grew up eating. “Spam was the last thing I ate before I went vegan, because I knew it was something I would never eat again,” she said.

Then she heard about OmniPork Luncheon, plant-based oblong pieces that look like spam and are produced by OmniFoods of Hong Kong. For nearly a year, Ms. Montenegro said, she harassed company executives to get the product to the United States. Finally, in April, his restaurant, Chef Reina in Brisbane, California, specializing in Filipino vegan comfort food, became one of twelve restaurants in the United States using OmniPork products.

“Right away, we sold it,” Ms. Montenegro said. “The only thing that differs with the OmniPork product is the sodium level – it’s lower than the real thing. But when it comes to taste and texture, it’s perfect.

OmniFoods said last month that its vegan pork products are now available at Sprouts Farmers Market stores and Whole Foods stores in 16 states have started selling some of its products.

Ms. Goldfarb of Unreal Deli had originally planned to showcase her vegan deli meats in restaurants. At the start of last year, it had made deals to supply a variety of restaurants, stadiums and universities. But when the pandemic hit, she quickly planned to sell in grocery stores instead.

Now Ms Goldfarb is back in talks with a number of restaurant chains, she said.

“Vegans and vegetarians, they will be in your corner. Flexitarian is the one we strive to capture, ”Ms. Goldfarb said. “We’re trying to talk to someone who’s been eating meat their whole life but now wants to have an alternative two or three times a week.”

She also has her next vegan deli target in mind: ham.