Fast-Food Brands Are Betting On A Plant-Based Future

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McDonald’s, Burger King and Del Taco are the latest fast-food brands to embrace meat alternatives, as demand for plant-based proteins continues to present new opportunities for legacy brands.

In addition to The Big Vegan TS being trialled in Germany, one of its leading international markets, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said he is “paying close attention to, and internally discussing, vegan and plant-based menu items,” during a call with the company’s investors.

The announcement follows the launch of rival Burger King’s Impossible Whopper — a plant-based burger from startup Impossible Foods, which according to the brand, resembles its existing Whopper so closely, taste testers were unable to differentiate between the two.

Designed to cater to customers looking to introduce healthier alternatives into their diets, the burger gives “somebody who wants to eat a burger every day, but doesn’t necessarily want to eat beef every day, permission to come into the restaurants more frequently,” Burger King’s North America president Christopher Finazzo commented.

With nearly one in five US consumers having reduced their red meat consumption compared to a year ago, and nearly two in five trying to add more plant-based foods into their diet, it’s not surprising the American-born brand is hedging its bets in preparation for an increasingly plant-based future.

“Offering a plant-based burger that mimics the taste and format of a traditional burger is an approachable way to introduce diners to meat alternatives,” Amanda Topper, Associate Director of Foodservice Research, US told Mintel.

And its a strategy other fast-food vendors have already employed, with success. Del Taco recently launched a plant-based version of one of its most popular items The Beyond Taco, which swaps ground beef with a vegan protein. And, according to the brand, it’s already been driving sales.

“We are very encouraged by increases in both check and traffic, as this new product platform is bringing in many new or lapsed users and appealing to regular Del Taco guests, who are all eager to sample our Beyond Taco offerings,” CEO John Cappasola told investors two weeks post-launch.

“We see incredible future opportunity to expand this protein across our menu,” he added.

Elsewhere in the US, White Castle and Carl’s Jr. already offer the Impossible Burger, whilst over in the UK Honest Burgers recently added the Beyond Meat burger to its menu.

And as pressure mounts on the rest of the industry to catch up, KFC has been leveraging the rise of veganism via a tongue in cheek ad campaign that reads: ‘Let’s be frank – we’ve timed this burger badly. It’s coming out during a time when unprecedented numbers of people are eschewing meat, and embracing aubergine.’ The brand is also set to launch a vegan chicken burger in the UK, later this year.

With more and more fast-food chains following suit, fresh innovation and opportunities within the meat substitute market are at an all-time high. According to Euromonitor, by 2023 it’s expected to grow 74% to $2.5 billion, in the US alone. The main challenge for businesses, it argues, will be their ability to keep up with consumer demand.

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