Case Study: CAVA highlights lentils’ versatility in globally inspired power bowls and salads

November 2021

The fast-casual restaurant segment is a booming one for the lentil industry. In addition to salad-centric chains, Mediterranean cuisine is a natural fit for lentils as operators are looking to add more plant-based proteins to menus. The Mediterranean fast casual restaurant chain CAVA provides a perfect example of how lentils can shine across menu categories, featuring lentils as a plant-forward protein option in power bowls and salads with global flavor profiles.

CAVA’s chef-curated Lentil Avocado Bowl includes falafel, roasted veggies, avocado, spinach, super greens mix, roasted eggplant, hummus, pickled onions, cucumber, lentil tabbouleh, and cabbage slaw, with skhug and garlic dressing. The Lentil Avocado Bowl costs between $11.96 and $13.72, depending upon participating location, and contains 16 grams of protein.

CAVA also caters to consumers’ taste for personalization and includes lentils as a base in a build-your-own bowl with grains and greens, either alone or in RightRice, a high-protein and high-fiber grain made from lentils, chickpeas, peas, and rice. Customers can also top their custom bowl or salad with lentil tabbouleh. Not only does this offer choice for the consumer, but opportunity for operators to cross-utilize lentils as an ingredient across the menu in different dishes and applications, making adding a new SKU an operationally sound decision thanks to lentils’ high menu versatility.

CAVA emphasizes the power of choice in its fast casual restaurants, advertising their “Build It” option as customizing Mediterranean-inspired fare to fit consumers’ individual tastes. CAVA’s use of lentils in multiple applications, including power bowls and salads, appeals to consumer demand for custom meals that offer both adventurous flavor and nutrition from high fiber and protein that satisfies hunger for longer. An August 2021 survey shows that consumers generally see salads and power bowls as interchangeable options, although they say that salads are more refreshing and power bowls are more filling, making them an excellent offering to feature lentils as a high-protein, plant-forward base. [1]

Lentils’ adaptability makes them well-positioned to this kind of menu offering, and most consumers, especially those who identify as foodies or vegan, say that they are willing to pay more for higher protein content in a menu item. [1] Lentils are high in protein and fiber, with 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per half-cup serving — the ideal ingredient for plant-based or plant-forward menu items that can command a small price premium and help consumers feel full for longer.

Widely available, lentils can provide options for consumers with more strict diets who want to dine away from home. Millennials and those who eat plant-forward diets say that they want to see lentils on the menu at Mediterranean restaurants. [1] Globally-inspired trends and dishes encourage purchases for many consumers, whether positioned as permanent menu items or limited-time offers. More than half of consumers (54%) say that they have gone out of their way to try a novel global food, and 46% of consumers say they have eaten a global dish in the past two weeks. [2]

Millennials, in particular, show greater affinity for global sauces and flavors, like skhug, the Middle Eastern hot sauce that tops the Lentil Avocado Bowl. They also prove more likely to love or like globally inspired flavors, like those of the Middle East and Asia. As Gen-Z grows older, they are expected to be more open to global flavors as well. [3]

The restaurant company Cava Group owns CAVA as well as the chain Zoës Kitchen, making Cava Group the largest operator in the Mediterranean category in the U.S. restaurant industry. CAVA’s menu offers consistency in the form of traditional consumer favorites including bowls and pita wraps. Scratch cooking elevates fresh ingredients, and select spreads, dips, and sauces can be found at retail in participating Whole Foods Markets and other regional grocers.

For menu inspiration including innovative Power Bowls and inspired Mediterranean fare, click here.

For more information about using lentils to anchor plant-forward, globally inspired dishes, contact us at info@lentils.org.

[1] Datassential Lentil Perceptions consumer omnibus August 2021

[2] Datassential Global Flavors Keynote 2017

[3] Datassential Flavor 2020 Appeal Index