Case Study: Fast-growing salad chain Sweetgreen features lentils in a sustainable menu item powered by plant-based protein

November 2021

Sweetgreen, one of the trendiest and fastest growing fast casual chains in the U.S., has a mission to build healthier communities by connecting people to real food, so it’s no surprise that lentils are a featured item on their menu.

The Super Green Goddess Salad features lentils, chickpeas, roasted sweet potatoes, raw carrots, spicy broccoli, shredded cabbage, raw beets, roasted almonds, baby spinach, shredded kale, and green goddess ranch dressing. The plant-based dish costs $9.95 and contains 485 calories, including 20 grams of protein. It can be purchased year-round at any of the chain’s 121 locations.

Plant-forward menu items have skyrocketed in popularity over the past several years, and this dish serves as a prime example of how lentils can add protein to vegetarian and vegan offerings. When lentils sit at the center of the plate or bowl, as in Sweetgreen’s Super Green Goddess Salad, they appeal to the consumer desire for plant-forward protein and healthier menu options. Foods that serve a specific function, like providing satiety from a combination of protein and fiber, are trending on quick-service restaurant (QSR) menus. [1] Lentils meet both needs — just half a cup of cooked lentils provides 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber to curb hunger while providing long-lasting energy for consumers on the go.

Lentils can also be categorized as a nutrient-dense superfood, another menu trend that is on the rise at QSRs. [1]

A recent study shows that 81% of consumers know of lentils, and 36% of consumers like or love them more than all other foods. Among the populations interested in lentils on the menu, self-proclaimed foodies and health-focused consumers tend to top the list. [1] Lentil-based menu items are popping up at more restaurants thanks to consumer demand. In the past 10 years, quick-service restaurants have increased lentil menu offerings by 42%, and lentil menu options have grown by 28% on all restaurant menus in the past decade. [1]

Sweetgreen’s menu centers on salads and protein bowls, and the company emphasizes sustainability and innovative, adventurous scratch cooking. The chain’s online menu notes that the Super Green Goddess Salad is a low-carbon option, an important component in the company’s mission to become carbon neutral by 2050.

With a plant-rich menu, Sweetgreen claims that their offerings are 30% less carbon intensive than the average American diet. This sustainability focus appeals to consumers looking for plant-forward options that deliver nutrition while helping them lower their carbon footprint. [1] Sweetgreen leads by example when it comes to foodservice industry efforts to increase transparency and improve messaging around sustainability and reducing carbon output.

Restaurant chains can more easily achieve their goals to improve climate restoration efforts by putting lentils on the menu. Lentils are a net-negative carbon use crop that requires exceptionally low water inputs. This means that lentil plants store more carbon in the soil than they emit, or the production of them emit, into the atmosphere. The only water used during crop production comes from environmental precipitation, and lentil plants are well-adapted to semi-arid conditions and tolerate drought stress well. Lentils also have the unique ability to fix their own nitrogen into the soil as they grow, which not only reduces the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed to grow lentils, as well as the subsequent crop on that land, but also increases soil health overall.

For a selection of Power Bowl recipe inspiration featuring healthy and sustainable lentils click here.

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[1] Datassential Flavor 2020 study