2023 – Last Year of Vegan Fast-Food
Plant-based meat seemed like it had a future in the fast food industry, but 2022 has confirmed that it isn’t viable.
Despite a few exceptions like Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, plant-based fast food entrees have mostly been expiration-dated offerings.
MANY FAILURES BEHIND
KFC sold vegetarian nuggets and Chipotle introduced vegan chorizo. Taco Bell also made a small effort to test multiple products tailored to non-meat eaters. Dunkin’ added fake sausages to its menus in 2019 with much hype before quietly removing it from most establishments in 2021.
Earlier this year it looked like it might finally be possible to have a vegetarian item in American McDonald’s with the McPlant. When the tests ended after 6 months, JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman reported that its sales were poor.
Consumption of the new menu item was especially sluggish in rural and low-income areas, where some restaurants reported only selling 3 to 5 McPlants a day, according to BTIG analyst Peter Saleh.
DIFFICULTIES IN CHANGING THE MIND OF THE CONSUMER
Plant-based proteins in fast food face several hurdles that prevent them from fully taking off, Brian Yarbrough of financial consultancy Edward Jones told Business Insider. “It’s very difficult” to turn meat eaters into regular plant-based meat customers, he says.
Part of the indecision is due to the high prices of the raw materials that are needed to prepare a vegetarian menu. A sandwich of these characteristics in a Starbucks in New York is $1.50 more expensive than the equivalent of the one with sausages, which means a price increase of 35%.
SKEPTISM IN THE QUALITY
Consumers have also become more skeptical of the quality of plant meat. A Deloitte survey of 2,000 people conducted last September revealed that by 2022 consumers were less likely to believe plant-based meat was healthier than regular meat. Also that they were less likely to pay a higher price for it.
Potential customers feel turned away because most of the ingredients in the vegetarian menu have unclear health benefits compared to real meat, Yarbrough told Business Insider.
Plant-based meat doesn’t fit with fast-food menu trends. Since 2020, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other chains have focused on simplifying menus and removing low-selling items, which can make kitchens more efficient and lines less.
Adding a new vegetarian item slows down operations and leads to longer waits for customers, which isn’t worth it for undersold items like the McPlant.
Plant-based meat isn’t likely to disappear completely from fast-food menus, but it’s clear that it will never replace beef. It’s a “great product for a small subset of the population,” Yarbrough says, but a “hard sell for most consumers.”