- Beef burgers are still the most popular type of burger with 6.4 billion ordered at QSRs during the year ending May, but growth is flat compared to a year ago, according to research emailed to Restaurant Dive from NPD Group.
- Customers ordered 228 million plant-based burgers at QSRs, an increase of 10% compared to the previous year, primarily due to more QSRs offering a plant-based option.
- Vegans and vegetarians are a small factor in the growth of plant-based burgers. Beef burger buyers who purchased burgers roughly 18 times during the year purchased a plant-based option at least two times during that same period.
The increasing number of QSRs offering plant-based burger swaps is making it easier for curious consumers, including carnivores and vegetarians, to try the new food. Demand is so high for these products that Impossible Foods, which recently raised $300 million in funding, has struggled to keep pace. It supplies Burger King, White Castle and Red Robin with plant-based patties. Chicken-focused chains like Chick-fil-A and KFC are now scrambling to find a plant-based poultry substitute so they can offer similar products.
Several factors have increased the popularity of plant-based foods, including the fact that 60% of U.S. adults want more protein in their diets, concerns for animal welfare and how meat products are distributed, sustainability and the perception that plant-based is healthier, according to the NPD Group. Countless headlines discussing the virtues of plant-based are also making consumers more aware of the trend.
While vegans and vegetarians will more consistently purchase the items, carnivores will be the true test. Data from NPD Group suggests that meat eaters are curious about plant-based swaps, but do not plan to stop ordering real beef even when a plant-based option is available. Ultimately, it's too early to tell if the plant-based burger trend has long-term traction beyond the initial hype.
For that very reason, some major players are staying on the sidelines of the plant-based burger race, including McDonald's and Shake Shack. McDonald's has been incredibly mum about why it hasn't added a plant-based burger option in the U.S., but has admitted that it's keeping an eye on the space. It did recently release a vegan burger in Germany. Other QSRs like Arby's and Taco Bell have made it clear that they have no intention of going plant-based anytime soon.