Plant-Based Meats, Meet Fast Food Chains

Plant-Based Meats, Meet Fast Food Chains

There’s a change in the way people are thinking about their diets – it’s not just about the latest fads like keto or paleo. In an effort to lessen our carbon footprints and make more sustainable food choices, many folks are turning to “meatless” meat options. To be sure, veganism and vegetarianism have been around for quite a while. And faux meats have come a long way since the introduction of Tofurkey in 1980. Today you can find scores of vegan meat choices, everything from sausage and chicken to hot dogs and deli slices—and it’s all likely readily available in your grocery store (in fact, it’s a $7 billion industry). All that being said, there hasn’t always been a faux-meat fast-food option for folks. With so many people dining out via the drive-thru (more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic), fast food chains seem to have realized the gap in their sales strategy. Let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we?

Back in 2002 and 2003, Burger King and McDonald’s introduced veggie burgers to their menus. If you don’t remember this, it’s likely because the whole thing was a giant flop. Perhaps the country just wasn’t ready for a non-meat substitute to their beloved Whoppers and Big Macs, or perhaps it was because these vegetarian options contained the same—if not more—calories than their meat counterparts.

Twenty years later, it seems like the country might be rallying around meatless fast-food options. To be sure, we eat a LOT of fast food. The CDC notes that over 36 percent of children eat the stuff on a daily basis, with 13 percent of their calories coming from a fast-food establishment. Did you know there are almost 14,000 McDonald’s in the country? As recently as 2019, fast-food joints used to be bound to just two plant-based options: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.  While those are still mainstays, companies like Quizno’s are partnering with the vegan meat enthusiasts at Unreal Deli to offer corned beef options. Chipotle is even making its own plant-based chorizo in-house!

We learned from The Beet that “vegan meat substitutes present a $14 billion opportunity, [with] plant-based meat appearing on foodservice menus 1,320 percent more than before the COVID-19 pandemic.” Almost 10 percent of restaurants are now offering plant-based meat alternatives. And the most common places to see these non-meat fares? Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, New York, and California.

McDonald’s has created something called the McPlant burger, using Beyond Meat. It started testing this option in December 2021 at participating locations and ended up selling about 70 burgers per day at each restaurant (as compared to 110 Big Macs). Just this week it expanded its test market to 600 more locations. Apparently, the test restaurants are selling 3 times more McPlant burgers than forecast. It’s now estimated that 8 – 10 percent of burger sales could be attributed to the McPlant.

Plant-based meats are definitely becoming more mainstream. Whether consumers are diving in out of sheer curiosity, for health concerns, or to eat more sustainably, all of this equates to big bucks for the fast-food industry. We’re certainly excited to see where this trend takes us!

As industries shift with growing changes in customer demands, turn to the Financial Pantry for the latest tips and trends to keep up with. We’ve got news and advice for small business owners like you, spanning everything from restaurants to salons. Search our content by industry or category to see our curated recipes for your business’s success.

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