The concept of eating out has been around for quite some time. Today’s well-known fast food industry developed during the American economic expansion between 1945-1960 (post-WWll). The American economic boom spanned from an increase in new housing, automobile production, and consumerism in nearly every category. . This effected the lifestyles and desires of the American people, increasing women’s rights and dual-income households.

As a result, the historic role of the “housewife” changed. As described by Franklin A. Jacobs 

“Eating out, which had previously been considered a luxury, became a common occurrence and then a necessity. Workers, and working families, needed quick service and inexpensive food for both lunch and dinner”.

The fast food industry thrived in these conditions and experienced an exponential growth. In addition of advertising itself as something fast and deliverable, the price of fast food also had to be kept to a minimum, to encourage repeated visits. The McDonald’s $1 menu offers is a good example for this strategy which is still very similar to the one we see today. freddie-marriage-68449-unsplash

What is the standard fast food customer actually looking for? What is their awareness of the environment and sustainable production line? And do fast food chains recognize the potential shift in these behaviors as a business potential?

According to David Burrowsthe consumer’s appetite for sustainable products is growing exponentially. In the UK the sales of organic products rose by 4% in 2016, and catering services of organic products rose by 13.6% to more than £7 Million. Fast food chains are not oblivious to these developments and quickly adapt to the market. McDonald’s announced a commitment to eliminate deforestation from their supply chain and KFC wants to reduce its use of palm oil. Thus, based on this information some of the fast food brands are shifting their business strategies to attract conscious eaters and thinkers.

According to QSR Magazine, the top five global fast food chains in 2011 are McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza (survey based on international development operating outside of the USA). All five have vegetarian options and many include vegan options as wellSo who provides the most? McDonald’s is leading in providing the most vegetarian and vegan food that is specialized for the local market.

McDonald’s decided to first try their new vegetarian burger in the UK and, if successful, will expand to other markets. In the UK they chose a marketing strategy focusing on product, price, and promotion, their typical global strategy. The product is McDonald’s first vegetarian burger that focuses on high quality and freshness of product to achieve fast customer satisfaction. The promotion focused on the ingredients, lower calories, and increased health benefits.

One reason why McDonald’s may be the leading fast food chain may be due to their targeting of very different consumers and demands at the same time. The brands first vegan burgers are a hit in Scandinavia, becoming part of the standard menu in Finland and Sweden, with expansion to the US Market in 2017. In early 2019, McDonald’s took this burger recipe to develop the “almost vegan” option in its Happy Meal, designed for children. It is a red pesto goujon tortilla wrap with tomato ketchup and lettuce. So what makes it “almost”? The product itself is vegan friendly and dairy free, however the tortilla goes through the same toaster as milk-containing burger buns.  Adding to McDonald’s movement, in 2012 they opened their first vegetarian-only chains in India, which has the market to support such a demand due to the fact that 42% of the population are vegetarian. Demand in this market will most likely only grow.

Recently, Burger King started to cooperate with Impossible Foods earlier this year and introduced its “Impossible Whopper” to the American market, with hopes to introduce it in other markets soon.

The demand for meat alternatives are steady increasing, not only because the amount of vegans and vegetarians are increasing, but because people are becoming more conscious about their diets and demand alternatives.

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Photo source: Marketing Week

Are the top five the only ones making strides? The Swedish fast food chain Max, focused on sustainable business development, went deeper with their strategy to appeal to local demand. Last year they achieved to produce the world’s first climate-positive burger.

“According [to Max], customers will be eating burgers that have 110 percent of their climate emissions offset – meaning every Max Burger sold will help fight climate change” - Sustainable Brands.

But climate-positive burgers were just another step for the company. In 2008, they also revolutionized product promotion by showing their customers the carbon footprint of each product . It is the first fast-food restaurant of it's size to do so, allowing customers to become more aware of the products impacts. 

Max
Photo from Max.com

According to Nielsen and Plant Based Food Association, US plant-based food has increased by 20% in 2018. Plant-based dairy alternatives in the UK are expected to be 40% of the combined total of dairy alternative beverages within the next three years (2017-2020) compared to 25% in 2016. Vegan cheese had an exponential growth in the market and now has an estimated worth of nearly $4 billion by 2024. The brand Kite Hill and Miyoko’s Kitchen (from vegan cheese pioneer Miyoko Schinner) are two examples for high growth within the vegan cheese market .

The most revolutionizing item is the pea protein industry, known for their role in the fitness world, which has an estimated worth of $104 million by 2026, according to Future Market Insights. Global meat substitution is expected to grow to a net worth of 5.2 billion by 2020, including American-based organization Impossible Foods, as reported by Forbes

It’s clear the market is changing, and vegetarian and vegan options are growing. Humans demands are changing, due to more education and awareness of our consumption habits. The plant-based revolution is coming and only getting bigger. Make sure you don’t miss the train and get left behind!

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