The last few years have been hugely significant for veganism in the UK with many of the nation’s largest and best-known fast food franchises offering vegan menu items for the first time. For many, this was seen as the quick-service-industry’s first mainstream exploration into veganism with many chains heavily promoting their new plant-based menu items. Running alongside this, and in many cases preceding this, a number of other, smaller burger restaurants and fast-food chains were also establishing themselves as innovators of vegan fast-food. With the multitude of vegan options now available in the UK, as well as the influences of campaigns such as ‘Veganuary’ and a constantly evolving QSR landscape (including a new influx of iconic American-based brands), where does vegan fast-food go from here?
The UK’s vegan fast food scene really started to gather momentum over half a decade ago, with brands such as ‘Biff’s’, ‘Halo Burger’, ‘Oowee Vegan’, ‘The Vurger Co’ all launching in some form between 2016-2018, offering exclusively-vegan menus and building fiercely loyal customer bases. In addition, we’ve also more recently seen the launch of ‘Neat Burger’ in 2019 and ‘Ready Burger’ in 2021. Brands such as these have only continued to build momentum in the UK, many of which are available through the largest delivery platforms and in 2019, Oowee Vegan was even awarded Deliveroo’s coveted ‘Restaurant of the Year’ title. The development for major fast-food brands such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King to introduce vegan items into their menus was also undoubtedly a key milestone for veganism and vegetarianism within the UK’s fast-food industry.
The UK’s fast-food landscape is one that now seems able to successfully appeal to both those with strict vegan diets as well as the those who may simply be curious to try vegan fast food or simply reduce their overall level of meat consumption. A brand such as ‘Bad Vegan’, launched in 2021, provides a further level of nuance, offering a menu that is primarily vegan with a few, select non-vegan options. The brand’s website states, “It is our mission statement to introduce and sustain a greater level of plant based vegan foods into people’s diets, whilst not alienating non-vegans. Traditional restaurants offer vegan alternatives, we’ve flipped it and offer non-vegan alternatives.” With such a spectrum of vegan fast-food environments, how will the larger brands move forward with their plant-based menus? McDonalds, KFC and Burger King have all reinforced their commitments to vegan and plant-based burgers after highly successful initial product trials. Burger King has even announced one of it’s key London restaurants will become a fully vegan restaurant as part of a one-month trial. This experiment will no-doubt provide interesting customer data on whether vegan and plant-based items are best-suited to dedicated vegan environments or if they are equally viable within traditional restaurants that continue to also offer meat-based burgers.
The future direction of this industry trend will be influenced by a variety of factors. The annual ‘Veganuary’ campaign, for example, continues to grow in popularity at incredible speed with 2022’s campaign attracting more than 620,000 people to sign-up! The level of awareness around the environmental significance of meat vs plant based food is also growing exponentially. Another influencing factor also continues to be the level of technology and innovation that facilitates such meat-free alternatives. As more plant-based foods are successfully developed to accurately mimic the taste of a broader range of existing fast-food items, restaurants may be able (or feel more inclined) to switch a greater proportion of their menus to meat-free alternatives. Another major industry development has been the recent launch of a number of iconic US fast-food chains into the UK market. Popeyes, for example, launched their first UK restaurant in 2021 and Wendy’s opened their first restaurant in the UK in 2021 after an absence in the UK market for two decades. An interesting development will be how closely these brands align themselves to an increasing demand for vegan and plant-based options. Currently, both brands do already offer meat-free burgers.
Packaging has also become a key consideration in the launch and promotion of vegan fast food items. Restaurants that serve both meat-free and meat-based burgers may be more reliant on packaging to signify their meat-free options as being distinct from the rest of their menu. In such cases, packaging has been effectively utilised to carry clear messaging around the themes of veganism, sustainability and environmentalism with long-established brand colours often sacrificed in favour of greens and neutral ‘kraft-based’ colour palettes. The need for such packaging branding may evolve to become less differentiated if meat-free options become more commonplace and more widely integrated into fast-food menus. Conversely, could it also be the case that some customers could potentially be put-off by such differentiated packaging branding? By marking their customer experience so distinctly through branding, could the customer ultimately view their order as lying outside of the core brand experience?
Author: Chris Fiander