It seems that every week, we hear news of yet another location of fast-food chain Burger King going meatless as a limited-time promotion or as part of a meatless menu expansion. In some lucky parts of the world, the chain has even opened fully vegan locations. Is Burger King dropping hints that it will soon be replacing animal meat altogether?
In recent years, the chain has shown increasing confidence that plant-based meat is quickly becoming the new norm and sharing its vision of what its menus could look like in the future. To date, Burger King has introduced plant-based burgers in 70 countries with an ultimate goal to offer plant-based options in its restaurants all over the world. In the UK, Burger King has also committed to offering menus that are at least 50 percent plant-based by 2030 as part of its efforts to cut carbon emissions. This transition will involve a shift away from its reliance on animal-derived beef and chicken to plant-based alternatives, which in turn will lead to an increased focus on vegan versions of classics such as Whoppers and nuggets.
Burger King’s Head of International Marketing, Sabrina Ferretti, tells VegNews that the chain is actively working to become a leader in plant-based fast food. “Burger King is expanding its plant-based menus in different countries to offer tasty alternatives for everyone who would like a substitute to animal meat without sacrificing on the unmatched BK taste,” Ferretti says. “Our ultimate goal is to position Burger King as the leader and go-to for the best-tasting plant-based food in the quick-service restaurant industry.”
Burger King’s meatless mission
The chain’s adoption of plant-based fast-food offerings began in 2019 when Burger King first introduced the Impossible Whopper at select locations in the United States—becoming one of the first national fast-food chains to add Impossible Burgers to its menu. For this offering, the plant-based patty by Impossible Foods is stacked with all the classic Whopper toppings including sliced tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and sliced onions, and can be made fully plant-based by asking for no mayonnaise. The Impossible Whopper became an instant hit for the company in regional tests, and it wasn’t long before the meatless option was expanded to its more than 7,000 locations nationwide.
Ironically, the launch of the Impossible Whopper happened on April Fools’ Day. “You can think of it as a meta April Fool’s joke in the sense that people will get a burger that they will actually believe is made from animals and be told it’s made from plants,” Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown told CNET back in 2019. “They’ll think it’s an April Fools joke, and it’s not.”
Last year, Burger King expanded its partnership with Impossible Foods by adding the brand’s vegan chicken nuggets to the menu in three test markets, once again becoming the first major chain to offer the new-at-the-time nuggets, which were available in an eight-piece order with a choice of dipping sauce at Burger King locations in Des Moines, IA, Boston, MA, and Miami, FL. And last week, a plant-based version of its fan-favorite Original Chicken Sandwich—made with Impossible Foods’ new Impossible Chicken Patties made from Plants—popped up on the menu at Cincinnati, OH locations for a limited time.
In another unique move, Burger King recently added to its Impossible lineup with the launch of two more menu items in the US: the Impossible King and the Southwest Bacon Impossible Whopper. While both items feature the Impossible Foods plant-based patty, they also include animal products in the form of dairy cheese on the Impossible King and bacon and cheese on the Whopper as a way to target consumers who are more hesitant to dive into a fully plant-based burger and are just working to limit their meat consumption.
“When we tell our guests, ‘Have it Your Way,’ we mean it. We are all about giving our guests the power of choice. Offering them the flexibility to enjoy our iconic flame-grilled menu on their terms extends beyond removing pickles or mayo,” Ferretti says. “Whether they choose plant-based alternatives like the Impossible Whopper or Stacker Sauce on a Whopper Jr., we’re here to serve our flame-grilled flavor—with choice.”
Burger King goes meatless around the world
Beyond the US, Burger King has introduced meatless offerings in one form or another all over the world, particularly through its partnership with The Vegetarian Butcher—a Unilever-owned company that supplies its plant-based meats across Europe. Recently, the chain’s locations in Germany began offering a meat-free option for every item on its menu, and in doing so, the chain in that country has doubled its range of plant-based products. Similarly in Austria, the chain introduced a campaign that offers customers the choice between “regular or meat-based” when ordering burgers in an effort to normalize plant-based eating.
Burger King’s approach in Austria is reminiscent of its 2019 campaign in Sweden. There, Burger King promoted its plant-based options—the Rebel Whopper and the Rebel Chicken King—with the innovative “50/50 menu” by daring customers to order blindly. As part of the dare, customers would receive either a plant-based or meat version of one of the sandwiches and likely not know the difference, driving home Burger King’s confidence in its plant-based offerings. And to further encourage customers to swap out their beef burger for a plant-based option, last week the chain gave away 10,000 plant-based Whoppers in the United Kingdom for National Burger Day.
“We’ve learned that it’s essential to take a holistic approach: every touchpoint is relevant for effectively communicating the new proposition,” Ferretti says. “The restaurants are a key component of three of our goals: driving awareness of the menu and Burger King initiatives, educating guests, and addressing barriers. The most successful ventures offer a 360-degree plant-based experience, unique and relevant to these goals.”
Will Burger King go vegan?
While Burger King isn’t the only major fast-food chain to offer plant-based versions of its most popular items and more, it is ahead of the curve when it comes to testing meat-free or even fully vegan locations. Last summer, Burger King transformed one location in Cologne, Germany into a totally meatless outpost to explore how customers would respond to a meat-free menu.
The chain has also experimented with similar concepts in Spain, Chile, Switzerland, and London. For the latter, Burger King transformed its flagship Leicester Square location into a fully vegan outpost for one month in March. The menu featured 25 plant-based items that included its classic plant-based Whoppers and vegan chicken nuggets but also more adventurous options such as Japanese-inspired Vegan Katsu Royale and the Plant-Based Katsu Chilli Whopper.
Following these successful pop-ups, last week Burger King brought the campaign to Central America with the opening of a fully plant-based pop-up in Costa Rica. The pop-up location is in San Jose, which is the brand’s second-largest Latin American market for plant-based Whoppers, and the fourth largest globally as of June by sales per unit. The San Jose location’s menu features offerings such as the Veggie Whopper, Veggie Nuggets, and the King de Pollo Veggie.
Ferretti tells VegNews that the continuation of meatless locations is ultimately driven by consumer demand: “Our recent plant-based pop-ups opened without a specified duration, and we keep them open as long as they are relevant to our guests,” Ferretti says. “The customers and their demand will ultimately determine the longevity of each restaurant and its plant-based offerings.”
With Burger King continuing its efforts to innovate its menus and focus on selling more plant-based options, if the demand is there, we might just see Burger King meatless locations become the new normal.
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