- Just Salad has eliminated grilled steak from its menu and replaced it with Beyond Meat's plant-based meatballs, according to QSR Magazine.
- The Beyond Beef Meatballs will be included within the company's Keto Zoodle Bowl, which includes zucchini noodles, grape tomatoes, roasted balsamic mushrooms and shaved parmesan.
- Just Salad has a number of sustainability initiatives, including saving 100,000 pounds of plastic in 2019 through the use of a reusable bowl program, switching to biodegradable fiber bowls at all its locations this year and developing a 360-degree composting program. The chain plans to send zero waste to landfills by 2025.
Just Salad's decision to source only plant-based beef substitutes rather than steak is placing a heavy bet on the future of the trend, when a number of uncertain factors still loom. While Just Salad is among the first to completely eliminate red meat from the menu, many others have been adding plant-based protein options to their menu, including Famous Dave's, KFC, Dunkin' and Burger King.
More options have helped feed ongoing consumer demand, but many challenges still exist that have left some restaurants scratching their heads over the longevity of the trend. From a supply chain standpoint, Impossible Foods' ran into a shortage that left its restaurant partners in a lurch just a few months ago. While Just Salad opted for Beyond Meat, which uses pea protein versus Impossible Food's soy, Beyond has had its share of shortages as well. Both companies have increased production, but if demand were to spike in the future, shortages could reoccur.
The restaurant may also be discounting the fact that most consumers are still purchasing meat products, with 98% of consumers who purchase alternative protein products still eating meat. Flexitarians represent roughly one-third of alternative protein buyers, which means they are only eating plant-based part time. There's also market share that cannot be ignored. Sales of meat totaled $95 billion last year while plant-based alternatives came in at $893 million. Although there has been a substantial buzz surrounding plant-based protein, the sales data suggests that its still a fraction of the overall protein market.
A question mark also still looms around consumer acceptance of plant-based protein alternatives. A recent study from Whole Foods indicated that 63% of millennials want unprocessed food products, calling Beyond Meat's 18-item and Impossible Burger's 21-ingredient lists into question. The amount of processing required has kept Chipotle from adding these products to its menu.
And when it comes to the environmental aspect of plant-based protein, a growing chorus of stakeholders, including university researchers, are suggesting that some of the alternative protein startups have not been using the right data when discussing beef's impact on the environment. Many beef advocates are also now suggesting to consumers that well-managed meat production can help regenerate soil, water, and ecosystems while also pointing out that the “eat less meat” movement could have negative unintended consequences for low-income demographics.
Plant-based protein and the role of meat in our food system is an ongoing debate, and many consumers are still investigating the issue, making Just Salad's decision to go completely beef-free a bold one.