Fast-Food Big Five: Burger King Tops List with Most Plant-Based Main Dishes, Finds New Report
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The world’s leading fast-food chains – McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut and KFC – are offering an increasing number of plant-based options, according to a nine-country report by food awareness organisation ProVeg International. Burger King tops the list with the most vegan-friendly main dishes, with Subway a close second. Meanwhile, the UK is Europe’s leading plant-based market, followed by Germany.
The report ranks these ‘Big Five’ fast-food chains on metrics including plant-based options, menu presentation, and labeling conventions. Food options traversed mains, sides and desserts, and the nine countries surveyed were Belgium, Czechia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US. (Spain and the Netherlands, where Pizza Hut has a low market share and doesn’t operate, respectively, featured analysis on Domino’s).
Across countries, 43 menus were analysed, out of which only 22 offered at least one vegan option. And just under 6% (85) of all main dishes (1,473) listed across those menus were plant-based. Similarly, vegan desserts accounted for 4.6% of all sweet options, while sides represented 27% of the total. Burger King and Subway were followed by McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, with KFC performing the worst.
Plant-based fare by fast-food chains
Vegan menu options represent 12% of Burger King’s overall offering, with 30 main dishes out of 307 across all countries – a 9.8% share. The fast-food chain also trialled its first all-vegan location at its Leicester Square flagship in London last year, and implemented a plant-based-by-default ordering model at a store in Austria.
Like Burger King, Subway also has vegan options that make up 12% of its overall menu, but trails marginally in the share of mains at 9.1%. But it performed the best when it came to the presentation of its menus, which consistently integrate vegan items with their conventional counterparts. ProVeg also lauded Subway’s naming convention (Rockin’ Morrocan and TLC Teriyaki are two examples), which hones in on the culinary theme of the dish.
At McDonald’s, the world’s largest food chain, 9% of the food is vegan. But plant-based main dishes only comprise 3% of the total options, and are only available in the UK, Germany and South Africa among the countries analysed. But the report notes that McDonald’s can make their nearly vegan options – some have dairy cheese and a ‘plant-based’ patty has animal products – plant-based by default.
Plant-based menu items represent 8% of Pizza Hut’s overall range, but out of the mains, only 5.2% are vegan. But ProVeg notes that the chain is making an effort to offer plant-based options, and integrating them into the general menu will likely appeal to a wider range of customers, including flexitarians and omnivores.
The reading is more bleak at KFC, where less than 1% of dishes are plant-based, and a minuscule 0.3% of mains are vegan. Out of all the 325 dishes evaluated, only one is listed as plant-based. But KFC has a huge opportunity to make its menus more appealing to plant-based diners. It already has several vegetarian options, and ProVeg says incorporating even a single plant-based nugget or burger option would significantly aid the chain.
Country-wise vegan fast-food availability
In Belgium (Pizza Hut), Poland and the US (both Subway), only one chain offers a plant-based main on online menus. Similarly, Czechia (Subway and Burger King) and South Africa (Burger King and McDonald’s) have only two of the Big Five offering vegan mains.
Meanwhile, Subway, Domino’s and Burger King all offer plant-based mains in the Netherlands and Spain. And in Germany, vegan main dishes are available at four of the Big Five: Burger King, Subway, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.
The UK is the only country in the report that has vegan options for main dishes in all of the five leading fast-food chains. The aforementioned single plant-based main at KFC is the Vegan Burger in the UK. One reason for this is the strong emergence of meat-free attitudes in the UK. The report mentions figures revealing that 9% of Brits are vegan or vegetarian, making up the largest share of plant-forward eaters in Europe after Germany.
Best-practice recommendations for fast-food chains
A new report has found that vegan diets can cut carbon emissions by 75% compared to a meat-rich diet. “It is vitally important that fast-food chains play their role in helping society transition to more climate-friendly diets by providing and promoting plant-based foods,” said ProVeg global CEO Jasmijn de Boo. “All five major chains are making strides in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement.”
ProVeg recommends a number of best practices that can help these fast-food chains attract more plant-based consumers – crucial for their climate commitments:
ProVeg’s recommendations include:
- More menu options should plant-based by default, which is a “very effective way of increasing plant-based purchasing among mainstream consumers”. It’s also crucial for chains in many countries to introduce vegan sauces and cheeses.
- Replace animal-based options with plant-based alternatives, instead of just adding the latter. ProVeg argues this helps normalise plant-based eating and increase vegan purchases among the mainstream.
- Integrate plant-based options with similar items and list them first, while repeating them in a separately labeled plant-based section. This will nudge consumers to choose more plant-based options while making it easier to navigate the menu.
- Instead of using the product name as the label, use subtle, easily identifiable labels (like pictograms) to “minimise the deterrent effect that vegan-identifying denominations can have on mainstream consumers”.
- When naming menu items, choose words that focus on the culinary theme, sensory experience or the brand of plant-based meat used in the food. The report suggests minimising the use of terms like ‘veggie’ or ‘plant-based’, and completely avoiding words like ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ or ‘meatless’.
- Use enticing language in product descriptions to highlight the taste experience and cooking technique, as well as frame the plant-based items as equivalent to their conventional counterparts.