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Normalize plant-based dishes and drive flexitarian sales in fast-food restaurants

October 26, 2023

Fast-food restaurants have steadily become part of the mainstream – since as early as 1921, when White Castle opened its doors in Wichita, Kansas, USA. Worldwide, fast-food represents close to a trillion-dollar market, with millions of customers frequenting chains daily.

If you’re involved in fast-food, it’s vital that you, as a business, make sustainable, plant-based options appeal to ‘mainstream’ consumers – to support the environment, as well as your sales! Indeed, compared to ground beef, most plant-based burgers reduce environmental impacts across every environmental category – land, water, and pollutants.

But how do you do this? By utilizing well-thought-out menu strategies to promote more sustainable options, of course. Let’s take a look…

Imagine you’re in your favorite fast-food chain. Which dish would you choose – a ‘meat-free burger’ or ‘juicy Texas BBQ patty’? Most consumers would opt for the latter! By using enticing and positive language to name and describe plant-based menu items, you appeal to consumers’ sensory cravings and hunger pangs, and thus attract their wallets. So, tempt diners to plant-based options via the senses. Use experiential words that describe your menu item’s taste, texture, and/or smell, such as ‘tender’ or ‘creamy’.

Likewise, choose words that focus on the product’s culinary theme (e.g. Subway’s ‘TLC Teriyaki’), cooking technique (e.g. ‘BBQ’), or brand of plant-based analog (e.g. ‘juicy plant-based patty co-developed with Beyond Meat’ – as with McDonald’s McPlant). Additionally, minimize the use of words such as ‘veggie’ or ‘plant-based,’ and avoid words like ‘vegan,’ ‘vegetarian,’ or ‘meatless’. Inasmuch, stay away from uninventive dish names. Let your senses lead the way!

Imagine you’re in your favorite fast-food chain. Which dish would you choose – a ‘meat-free burger’ or ‘juicy Texas BBQ patty’? Most consumers would opt for the latter!

Menu presentation is a key factor for consumer success in fast-food chains – a vital aspect of this is where you position plant-based products. Which approach is most effective – displaying plant-based dishes separately from animal-based menu options, integrating them with animal-based offerings, or both? Resolutely, fully integrating plant-based items into the overall menu and listing them first is the best way to go. This method helps to ‘normalize’ plant-based options among omnivore and flexitarian consumers at fast-food restaurants, by making them appear as if plant-based options are for everyone, not just those who forgo meat and/or dairy.

In addition to item integration, fast-food chains should also repeat plant-based menu items in a separate section of the menu. Utilizing both of these tactics helps to nudge mainstream consumers toward choosing plant-based while also making it easy for consumers who adhere to fully plant-based diets to navigate the menu.

Now that you have integrated your options and made plant-based dishes sound appealing, make sure you’re labeling them properly. When you spot a plant-based food option on a menu, how often have you only known that item is free from meat, egg, and dairy products because the dish name includes the word ‘vegan’? (Think, ‘Vegan Breakfast Bap’ or ‘Big Vegan Burger’.) Unfortunately, this approach is neither inventive, attractive to non-vegan customers, nor a reliable labeling system.

So, be sure to avoid using the product name to function as the label! Employ proper, consistent labels that are subtle yet easily identifiable to those looking for them.

Pictograms are great examples – they minimize the deterring effect that vegan-identifying denominations can have on meat-eating consumers while accommodating those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets. Suitable pictograms or letters to denote plant-based menu items include a ‘VE’ or ‘V’, or a small leaf symbol. Keep it simple!

So, what are you waiting for? These are just some of the strategies that can be used to normalize plant-based food in your fast-food venues to drive sales and help the environment – it’s a win-win.

Learn more about plant-based menu strategy on the New Food Hub, where you can also uncover the results of our recent International Fast Food Ranking Report.

And as always, don’t miss my next column for more insights on all things flexitarian!

Gemma Tadman is ProVeg International’s B2B Communications Manager. In her role, she works to engage and support businesses in the transition to sustainable food and drink production, and accelerate the growth of the alternative protein industry. This article is republished from the October/November 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International, the industry's leading resource for alternative proteins. To subscribe to all future editions, please click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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