Matthew Kenney Cuisine
Matthew Kenney is a chef, entrepreneur, author, and educator specializing in plant-based cuisine. He has written 13 cookbooks and is the founder of Matthew Kenney Cuisine, which operates multiple restaurant concepts, provides organizational foodservice, and is launching culinary-driven CPG brands.
Chef Matthew Kenney Sees Big Opportunity
In Plant-Based Cuisine
From Foodservice to Retail, Plant-Based Sector Offers Multiple Opportunities
Q: What got you involved in the plant-based space?
Matthew: I’m a classically trained chef, I’ve always had a passion for health, nutrition, and food. I trained at the French Culinary Institute and spent 12-15 years working as a chef, with a focus on a Mediterranean style of cooking I helped develop. About 15 years ago I realized that I had to live a plant-based lifestyle, and decided to build a plant-based lifestyle brand that would become global, integrated into multiple business sectors. Several years ago, I started the first state-accredited vegan culinary school, and we now have a global network of 5000 graduates. Over the last few years, the market has opened up dramatically. We’re a small group that manages multiple brands; we’re best known for hospitality, but we don’t anticipate this being our biggest segment in the future.
My goal has always been no processed ingredients, taking a very culinary approach, and using high-end restaurants to show demand for replacing what is called food with real food. We have started Plantminded is our new foodservice company, we are already in Loma Linda Hospital serving 180,000 meals per year. Our goal is to work with schools, hospitals, corporate cafeteria, and sports arenas. We watched what Jamie Oliver tried to do with school food, he fell flat when he tried to get into California’s K-12 food system. To succeed, you have to partner with the people who are already doing it and have existing relationships. We plan to license intellectual property to other food providers.
We have several plant-based CPG products in development, including a frozen pizza brand based on our pizza concept in New York, to take on the $10 billion frozen pizza market. A lot of hotels reach out to us about plant-based foodservice, especially luxury brands. We also have worked with companies like Jamba Juice to develop a plant-based menu.
Q: What do you think other restaurants should know about plant-based cuisine?
Matthew: Coming from a chef’s perspective, I’m big about animal welfare, protecting the environment, and trying to serve people the best-tasting food on planet. Plant-based is the only food you can eat everyday, feel good about, and know that it’s good for the planet. Millenials get that.
Each of the big chains has the opportunity to be the biggest plant-based chain in the world, they should do a startup, try a new plant-based concept. I see the new, well-known plant-based products [Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat] hitting the market recently as a catalyst, opening a lot of doors for my company,
Q: Do you have insights into whether consumers ordering the plant-based entrées are vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian?
Matthew: Each one is different, the pizza restaurant in NY has mostly omnivore customers. For most of our locations, I would guess that only 10-15% of customers are vegan or vegetarian.
Q: How is it featured on your menu? What promotions seem most effective for plant-based dishes?
Matthew: We are an aesthetically driven company, we try to put out the sexiest, most vibrant food you can find. It’s an Instagram world, very photo-driven. It’s all about getting people to taste it. Our message is all about the food, not about animals or the environment.
Q: Are your plant-based dishes priced similarly to comparable non-plant-based dishes?
Matthew: We are a little more expensive, more of a luxury brand. Our foodservice arm, Plant-Minded, is not in that category, it is much cheaper.
Q: Are plant-based entrées easier or harder to store/prepare/serve?
Matthew: They are usually less perishable, so it tends to be easier. The cooking aspect is easy. Eliminating perishable ingredients is nice because it means eliminating categories that you have to buy in which makes vendor management easier.
Food ingredient costs represent about 20-22% of the final dish price in our [plant-based] restaurants, while the industry average [for all foods, including animal-based dishes] is around 30%. The idea that plant-based is high cost is a misconception, whole food cooking is often perceived as expensive, but it is not.