Why Plant-Based Meat May Already Be Considered A Fast Food Failure

For a while, plant-based meat seemed to be on the rise at fast-food restaurants. Burger King began selling the Impossible Whopper. KFC even sold plant-based fried chicken, made from Beyond Meat. However, these launches may not have been as successful as the chains had hoped.

McDonald's began testing the McPlant burger at several locations back in November 2021. According to Insider, earlier this year its addition to the full menu looked promising, as McDonald's expanded the testing to another 600 restaurants in the Dallas and San Francisco areas. However, six months after the initial release, the program abruptly ended — and restaurants reportedly only sold between three to five of the sandwiches daily, as Insider noted in late 2022.

All of this is puzzling, especially since plant-based diets are on the rise, per the Food Revolution Network. Plant-based dairy and meat product sales exceeded $29 billion in 2020, with a projected growth of $162 billion by 2030. With more and more people interested in alternative protein options, why have fast-food sales been so consistently low?

Lack of interest might harm sales

According to a recent report by Insider, low sales numbers may be to blame for the decreased options in the alternative protein category. Many plant-based offerings have been limited-time options. By offering the options for a temporary period, fast-food chains can examine how well the protein sold, and if it could potentially become a permanent menu offering.

As Insider also noted, consumers are skeptical of plant-based meat's health benefits and are not sure if the higher price tag is worth the food. Additionally, the outlet explained that many fast-food chains have begun reducing menu offerings in order to streamline busy periods during lunch and dinner rushes. Offering too many options, and adding plant-based meat to the mix, might just make things more complicated. Due to a lack of interest, and lower sales during test runs, it is unlikely that plant-based meat will be a staple on menus at most fast-food restaurants, at least for now.

The plant-based fast food is for allegedly for a limited audience

In addition to low sales — and despite using plant-based proteins — these items offered at the chain restaurants may not have been suitable for people following plant-based diets. The KFC website notes that while the chain offered Beyond Meat fried chicken, the food was unsuitable for vegetarian or vegan diners, mostly due to the fact that it was being fried in the same oil as meat. Today reported that Burger King's Impossible patties were fried on the same griller as beef patties, and cross-contamination was likely.

If the only demographic that can eat plant-based meat at fast-food restaurants is people that still eat meat, they may be less likely to order a plant-based option. According to a survey conducted by the Food Business News in 2020, respondents answered that they were curious about plant-based options; out of 1,000 U.S. adults, 41% of respondents stated that they liked trying new foods, while 30% had already had their curiosity piqued by discussions of plant-based foods. However, curiosity and interest in taste testing don't necessarily equate with long-term success. Some may be off-put by the higher price tag, while others may just prefer the taste of real meat.