The Great Meatless Migration In QSR

Impossible Foods Notches $300M Investment

Burger King made a lot waves about a month ago when it announced that, in cooperation with the vegan burger folks at Impossible Foods, it would be rolling out meatless version of the Whopper.  The Impossible Whopper is a meatless burger — but not a vegan one, as it still has mayonnaise on it.

But by all accounts, the meat-free Whopper has been a success — reports indicate that after rolling out the new configuration for their flagship product, Burger King has had some trouble keeping them in stock.  It’s not impossible to find an Impossible Whopper, but it’s a whole lot harder than one might imagine given the ubiquity of the chain.

And where there is success in one form, other variations are bound to pop up, as Del Taco is currently demonstrating with its new meat free roll-out — the vegan taco.  For the last week, the West Coast-based taco chain has been selling the “Beyond Taco,” made in collaboration with another startup in the meat alternative space — Beyond Meat.  The Beyond Taco comes in two varieties — vegetarian (with cheese) and vegan. Both sell for $2.49, a dollar more than the standard taco.

“Definitely there’s a sense that there’s a movement going on that’s much bigger than any one company,” Ethan Brown, the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, told Vox. “I think competition is good — it helps to grow awareness of the sector.”

The new partnership with Del Taco is not Beyond’s first collaborative rodeo.  In January, Carl’s Jr. restaurants put a Beyond Meat burger on the menu, and A&W stores in Canada have been test-driving Beyond Burgers of their own.

Ethan Brown is a vegan who stopped consuming all meat products a few years ago because he is morally committed to the rights of animals. But, he noted, Beyond Meat’s goal isn’t to convince everyone else on the planet to feel the same way on the subject.  Most customers who put a Beyond product in their shopping cart, he noted, probably have milk, cheese and even meat in their cart. And that’s fine, he said — that’s actually great news as far as he’s concerned. What it tells him is that the product Beyond Meat is making isn’t just a product for people who have already decided to never eat meat or animal products again.  It is a product for any consumer eating any kind of diet.

“I’m so sensitive to not being seen as extreme,” he said. “We’re all about mainstream.”

The goal isn’t to introduce a product to the market, and then ask consumers to live up to it.  That, he noted, is a singularly unappetizing prospect for most. What they are committed to is meeting the customer where they are, and offering them a real and viable alternative that tastes as good, is better for them and causes less overall damage to the physical environment.

It is why for the Del Taco launch, for example, the company noted in an email to PYMNTS that Beyond Meat’s in-house culinary team worked with Del Taco to build entirely new recipes using the Chinese seasoning palette as the base. And those preparations work across food items — not everyone at Del Taco actually wants a taco. For those looking for a burrito, enchilada or nacho plate, there is also an option to swap out whatever meat normally acts as the protein for a Beyond Meat base instead.

Vegan meat is trendy right now — and Brown notes that one of the challenges in the food business is finding the difference between changing trends and flash in the pan fads that come on quickly, are suddenly everywhere and disappear overnight.  Everyone remembers the great cupcake epidemic of 2013.

But the trend toward fewer animal products in our food, Beyond Meat is betting, isn’t going to be as ephemeral, or ultimately short-lived as the more Instagram-friendly food trends of the last few years.  All the reasons people give for buying and trying products like Beyond Burgers — generally including concern for health, the environment or animals —  tend to have more staying power than simply being photogenic does.

So is the Impossible Big Mac on the way, since McDonald’s, as of yet, doesn’t have a veggie burger to call its own?

Impossible Meats won’t say, other than to note that they are “talking to everyone.”