Barbecue chain Famous Dave's has chosen Woodbury diners to be among its test subjects for plant-based protein dishes this fall.

As major chain restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway add plant-based meat alternatives, Famous Dave’s is the first barbecue joint of its size to join the trend. The Minnetonka-based chain has partnered with Beyond Meat, incorporating its plant-based protein product into classic barbecue dishes at its 13 company-run locations in Minnesota and Colorado, said Famous Dave’s culinary director Sylvia Matzke-Hill.

With street tacos, nachos, bowls and burgers, Famous Dave's is targeting the “flexitarian” — someone who primarily follows a vegetarian diet, but will occasionally eat meat, she said.

“It really expands the menu and it just shows that there are some options out there,” Matzke-Hill said. “We felt that plant-based protein would be a good option for our restaurant to serve so anyone could come in and have the barbecue experience that we have to offer.”

In the past year, about 98% of people who bought plant-based “meat” at grocery stores also purchased regular meat, while 27% of that group continued to buy the plant-based meat products more than four times in the year, according to a July 2019 report from Nielsen. Overall, the number of households buying meat alternatives has grown by 1.6% since last year.

Sixty-two percent of consumers reported they’d be willing to reduce meat consumption because of environmental concerns, and 43% said they’d be open to replacing meat-based protein with plant-based protein, according to the Nielsen report.

The food industry is taking note — over the summer, several major chains began to add or test plant-based alternatives. Much of the interest has centered on two recently founded companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which produce alternatives designed to look and taste like meat. In late September, McDonald's announced it will begin testing Beyond’s patties in Ontario, Canada; Burger King rolled out its “Impossible Whoppers” at its restaurants nationwide in August following a test period with Impossible Foods.

“What’s really exciting is that for a long time, people associated vegan food with being just for vegans. And what’s starting to happen is that more and more people are recognizing that you don't really have to be vegan in order to enjoy vegan food,” said Brian Kateman, author of “The Reducetarian Solution,” who advocates for the reduction of meat in everyday diets for ethical and environmental reasons.

Growing interest in vegan foods can be attributed to two main trends, said Michele Simon, executive director of the national Plant Based Foods Association. As younger generations report a growing interest in plant-based meat, more options such as Beyond and Impossible products are becoming available.

“One reason restaurants in particular are important in contrast to retail is that we know that many consumers tend to try things when they’re eating out,” Simon said.

While most of the restaurants adding alternatives are offering the signature burger from Beyond or Impossible, Famous Dave’s is testing five new items with its own twist, noted marketing director KC Glaser.

The pea-based “meat” from Beyond is seasoned with barbecue sauce and sprinkled into Famous Dave’s Frito-nachos, street tacos and a “barbecue bowl,” featuring cilantro, lime rice, roasted sweet corn, chili and jalapenos. In addition, the restaurant is offering a Tropical Burger with sweet grilled pineapple and the joint’s signature sauce and spicy pickles, as well as a “Beyond” brat, Matzke-Hill said.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years ... is a macro shift in how people are thinking about their diet and their food. And we want to make sure that we are able to change in scale and grow with those macro changes,” Glaser said. “When we started 25 years ago, it was a very different world in terms of the knowledge people had about what they were putting into their bodies, the access they had to alternatives. I think it makes sense for us at this point to be there and grow with the change.”