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Louisiana-based U.S. restaurant chain Popeyes has two major milestones slated this month: opening its first UK store and debuting its first-ever vegan fast food item. The Creole Red Bean Sandwich is a vegan patty served with lettuce, tomato, and a vegan Creole sauce.
As the item’s name suggests, the patty is made from a base of breaded, fried red beans. Notably, Popeyes chose to develop the patty in-house, rather than partner with Beyond or Impossible as most other QSRs have done for their alt-proteins.
As Vegconomist pointed out recently, another departure from the alt-meat norm is that Popeyes isn’t trying to replicate its signature item, fried chicken, with plant-based ingredients. At least not yet. Instead, the company took inspiration from one of its side items, the Louisiana staple red beans and rice, for this first vegan item.
Catching up to other QSRs
Popeyes doesn’t have much of a history of serving up vegan menu items, since chicken is the chain’s specialty. Likewise, most of the available side items contain some animal-based protein. Across the US, for example, the chain offers no vegan items at all.
But in the UK, demand for more plant-based and vegan options is loud and clear these days. According to The Vegan Society, around 40 percent of Brits say they have “actively reduced or removed” animal products from their diet. That number suggests that even the least vegan-centric QSRs have to start making some changes to their menu offerings to accommodate shifting consumer preferences.
Popeyes has actually been slower than many QSRs to add plant-based and/or vegan items to the menu. Burger King effectively started the trend in 2019 with the Impossible Whopper and has since gone on to offer additional plant-based menu items and, most recently, opened an entirely meat-free location. In the UK specifically, the chain has said 50% of its menu will be plant-based by 2030.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s has its vegan McPlant burger in the UK and KFC has added vegan items to its UK menus permanently. Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and many others have done the same.
More earth-friendly fast food
Data from a recent Oxford study shows that meat consumption in the UK has dropped by 17% within the last decade. However, consumption of white meat and fish continues to rise, and researchers have warned that the country needs to cut down even more on eating meat if the UK is to reach its 30% reduction goal set forth by the country’s sustainable food strategy.
QSRs — the major ones, anyway — tend to have a fairly wide reach across the markets in which they operate, which means they can exert a certain level of influence over what their customers eat. In the UK, Popeyes doesn’t yet enjoy the popularity of a Burger King or KFC, since the first location will not open until later this month. However, the chain said it plans to open 350 more locations across the country in the future. That’s a few hundred more chances to introduce eco-friendly QSR food to the buying public.
Lead image courtesy of Popeyes.