If you know someone who chooses to be a vegetarian or a vegan, you know someone who wouldn’t be caught dead (no pun intended) in a fast-food restaurant specializing in serving former members of the animal kingdom. It’s not that being vegetarian or vegan is bad somehow or restaurants are acting in some disparaging tactics in defiance of those who do not consume real meat, it’s just that the meatless market segment hasn’t been significantly large enough to find many choices when encountering most mainstream eateries’ menus. As with many products in the early stages of development, meatless versions of natural beef and poultry have fallen short of meeting consumers’ expectations. Enter Burger King and its new “Impossible Whopper!”
Fast food restaurants Burger King and Popeyes are defying the odds of lightning striking the same place twice. Happily reeling from the introduction of the Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich (real chicken) during the Chicken Wars of 2019, Restaurant Brands’ Burger King (BK) is now demonstrating that the king of real-meat burgers can find a way to entice even the most die-hard vegetarian or vegan diner to cross the threshold of its houses of bovine. Sales at BK restaurants that have been open at least a year rose 5% in the last quarter, the strongest showing of growth since 2015. The “Impossible Whopper” initial offering was so popular that the company will be testing three additional versions of the meatless entree in coming months at more than 180 locations.
The meatless mystery is not only being experienced at eat-out locations. Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue and Hormel (each a leading meat producer) have all introduced meat alternatives in supermarkets across America. Impossible Foods, producers of plant-based burgers as well as meatless chicken nuggets and patties, say their products will be making a national debut soon at Wegmans stores in seven states and at two Manhattan outposts of Fairway Market. “There’s a growing demand for plant-based options, so the fact that customers will now be able to prepare Impossible Burger at home is a big deal,” said Ann Johnston, the category merchant of Wegmans.
Made from plant-based proteins, vitamins, amino acids, sugars, heme, culinary binders and fats such as coconut oil and sunflower oil, the Impossible Burger is similar in texture and feel to a traditional burger and, if prepared and seasoned properly, can emulate the taste of its real meat counterpart. In August of this year, KFC’s roll-out of its version of cluck-less chicken sold out in just a matter of hours. A recent global AT Kearney report suggests that by 2040, 60% of “meat” could be created in labs or come from plant-based products.
Now that meatless offerings are emerging from trendy, off-main street restaurants into the universe of Americans’ mega formula eateries, the push-back is beginning to rise among the Nation’s food patrol, those dedicated patrons of healthy eating whose sole purpose is to get all of us eating healthier, even if we all die of starvation in the process. The criticism centers on the fact that meatless varieties are usually highly processed, contain GMOs and are not any healthier than real meat. What’s the good news in this argument? Well, they’re not any less healthy than real meat. New York City-based dietitian Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., says, “I think many people are choosing the meatless chicken because of environmental or animal welfare reasons. Even though it’s not necessarily healthier, I think it’s great since it’s persuading people to eat more plants and less meat.”
As marketing mavens, we must champion the efforts of the leading meat providers who are avoiding their own “Kodak moment” and recognizing the changing dietary attitudes of the marketplace. Burger King, by enticing the non-beef eating crowd into its establishments, is not only gaining a sale of an Impossible Whopper but is also realizing additional revenue from French fries, beverages, desserts and other menu offerings that may have never been realized.
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