A New Report Reveals That More Than Half Of The Top 100 Restaurant Chains In The U.S. Are Offering Plant-Based Options

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As the demand for plant-based food across the United States continues to grow, 42 of the country’s favorite restaurant chains still do not offer a plant-based entrée, according to a report released by The Good Food Institute (GFI). But this is about to change. 

“More top U.S. restaurants are stepping into plant-based or stepping up their existing game to cater to customers looking for more center-of-plate protein variety,” The Good Food Institute Foodservice and Supply Chain Manager Zak Weston said in a statement. Having a strategy for plant-based is now a business imperative, your customers want it and your competitors are doing it.”

While some of America’s most beloved brands like McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, and In-N-Out Burger have been slow to capitalize on the surging interest in plant-based eating in the U.S., 58 of the top 100 restaurant chains are taking advantage of the plant-based market opportunity; even increasing their plant-based offerings from 25% to 50% of their menu, like Panera Bread plans to do.

Iconic brands like Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Panda Express are just some of the leading restaurant chains that have added plant-based items to their menus over the past 12 months, with Del Taco, Qdoba Mexican Eats, Red Robin, and Yard House adding additional items to their existing plant-based offerings.

In fact, Del Taco, Qdoba Mexican Eats, and Yard House received perfect marks, scoring 10 out of 10, for doubling down on their plant-based entrées, alongside Jamba Juice, which has maintained its extensive plant-based smoothie menu.

Del Taco was recognized for adding multiple Beyond Meat items to its menu in 2019 and for heavily advertising these offerings to meat-lovers, vegetarians, and vegans alike. Qdoba Mexican Eats’ nationwide Impossible Foods launch in 2019 made it a standout, with the restaurant chain allowing customers to add Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat to any of its core dishes. Yard House was also recognized for its ten plant-based dishes that feature Gardein’s plant-based chicken.

Burger King and Panda Express made their plant-based market debut in 2019 and have since demonstrated the fastest growth in their plant-based offerings, alongside Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, Qdoba Mexican Eats, and Dunkin’.

Burger King’s April test of the Impossible Whopper in St. Louis generated a 28% increase in sales, compared with a 2% sales increase for McDonald’s in the same market and time period. Burger King’s third quarter earnings report revealed that the Impossible Whopper had driven 5% of comparable sales growth in the U.S., with the plant-based burger accounting for up to 10% of all Whoppers sold.

Both Burger King and Carl’s Jr. have doubled down on the plant-based opportunity in the past year. Just a few months after Burger King’s successful Impossible Whopper launch in August 2019, the restaurant chain added the Impossible Whopper Jr. to its menu. Carl’s Jr.’s Beyond Famous Star was launched in January 2019 and the restaurant chain expanded its plant-based menu with a second iteration, the Beyond BBQ Cheeseburger in October 2019, in addition to offering the Beyond Meat patty as an upgrade on all burgers.

“We’re at the tipping point where consumers are demanding plant-based foods and the industry is willingly responding with delicious options. This is no longer about a niche customer, it is a major business opportunity,” said Panera Bread’s Vice President of Wellness and Food Policy, Sara Burnett.

According to research by The Good Food Institute, 30% of Americans are reducing their total meat consumption, and another 2018 Johns Hopkins study has found that 60% of Americans are reducing their consumption of at least one type of animal meat. This shift in consumer preferences indicates the plant-based meat market may capture 10% of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry and be worth $140 billion in the next decade.

“We believe that everyone has the right to craveable, bold, Mexican-inspired flavors, no matter your dietary lifestyle, and we aim to provide more plant-based menu choices than anyone else. We have long been a haven for vegans and vegetarians, who replace meat for beans on almost any of our menu items,” said Taco Bell Corp Chief Food Innovation Officer Liz Matthews. “We look forward to continuing to innovate and find ways to make ordering plant-based at Taco Bell even more accessible at a great value.”

The NPD Group data summarized here represents syndicated sales information from U.S. broadline foodservice distributors and was obtained over the 52-week period ending December 2019 from NPD’s SupplyTrack service. Broadline foodservice distribution skews heavily towards independent restaurants, small to medium-sized chains, and non-commercial foodservice operations. Many larger restaurant chains and specialty distributors are excluded from this data; which means that this is only a small section of plant-based offerings available at restaurants and stores throughout the county. NPD estimates that this data covers approximately one-third of total U.S. foodservice distribution sales volume.

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