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Valentine’s Day is coming up, and love is in the air — but it looks like the once hot-and-heavy relationship between plant-based meat and fast-food is experiencing some bumps.
This week Burger King reported overall sales growth of 0.6 percent for Q4 of 2019, which fell short of Wall Street estimates. That’s a marked dip from just a few months ago, when BK’s sales increased roughly 15 percent globally, in large part due to the success of the recently-launched Impossible Whopper.
It was with a much more muted tone that Jose Cil, CEO of Burger King’s parent company Restaurant Brands International, mentioned the plant-based burger on the company’s most recent earnings call (h/t CNBC):
… the Impossible Whopper was a big highlight of 2019 and continued to be an important sales driver in the fourth quarter, generating healthy levels of incrementality at a premium price point.
The dip in excitement could be attributed to a confluence of several factors. First and foremost, the novelty of plant-based meat is starting to wear off across the QSR space. When Burger King first decided to start selling the Impossible Whopper, the news made headlines everywhere (including here). That media blitz likely attracted lapsed vegetarian/vegan consumers as well as consumers who were curious to try this whole fake-meat-that-bleeds concept. In all likelihood, at least some of those diners tried the Impossible Whopper then decided that it wasn’t worth reordering, or that they preferred their regular beefy order.
Another issue is over-saturation. Burger King was one of the first (and the largest) fast-food chains to embrace meat alternatives on its menu. Now it’s becoming the norm for QSR’s, from Dunkin’ to KFC, to serve vegetarian meat — with the noted exceptions of McDonalds (in the U.S.) and Arby’s.
We also can’t discount price as a factor in this decline. Depending on the location, Impossible Whoppers cost one to two dollars more than a regular Whopper. Overall that’s not much, but it’s a heckuva lot more significant in a fast food context where an extra buck can get you anything from fries to a large soda. Maybe the price difference didn’t scare off people who wanted to try the next buzzed-about burger, but was too much for them to justify paying on the regular.
Burger King is clearly aware that the Impossible Whopper’s cost is a problem. That’s why they recently added the plant-based offering to its 2 for $6 menu, but it may be too late for those who have already categorized the Impossible Whopper as an expensive option.
In a Future Food newsletter last year, just as QSRs were starting to debut meat alternatives left and right, I asked a question: Is fast food’s love affair with plant-based meat going to last?
To continue with the romance analogy, I don’t think the two are ready to split up. Instead, they’re settling into coupledom — things are less hot-and-heavy but more consistent.
So it might be time for fast food and plant-based meat to spice up their relationship and experiment by introducing new products (fried chicken! bacon!) or trying cost-saving promotions (like Burger King is doing now).
The honeymoon period might be over, but the foundation is still there. Time for phase two of the relationship.
Should we be discussing plant-based dog food?
Meatless meat may be cooling its love affair with fast-food, but it’s heating up in a very different space: pet food. According to market intelligence agency Mintel, roughly one third of all U.K. dog food buyers want to purchase more plant-based food for their pets.
I’ve considered covering meat-free pet food in this newsletter before, but something always stopped me. We at the Spoon cover human food tech news, right?
But then I read a crazy statistic, that in the U.S., dogs and cats are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of total meat consumption. If they were their own country, they would rank fifth in the world. That’s huge! And as the population grows and pet ownership increases in developing countries, the total meat consumed by dogs and cats will only go up. It might make sense to start thinking seriously about the future of pet food, after all.
What do you think? Would you be interested in coverage on pet food — new ingredients (cell-based meat!), distribution methods, etc? Tweet your thoughts to @TheSpoonTech and let me know!
Protein ’round the web
- Alpha Foods raised $28 million for its frozen plant-based proteins and premade meals.
- FUMI Ingredients, an ingredient developer which has made plant-based egg whites, snagged a €500,000 ($552,000) investment (h/t AgfunderNews).
- Meatless Farm has partnered with meal kit company Gousto to create kits featuring its beef alternatives.