Anybody would think we’d all removed meat from our diets judging by the plethora of meat-free products and restaurant propositions to hit the market over recent years. The reality is that there has been a reduction in meat consumption as greater numbers of people have taken a more flexible approach to their food consumption – we’ve certainly progressed from being a country wedded to its diet of meat and two veg.
Trends Towards More Vegan Friendly Foods
But even this mainstream trend seems to have been insufficient to support the incredible amount of activity in the hospitality and food manufacturing industries that has seen a serious amount of money thrown at the plant-based end of the market. There has been particularly explosive activity in the burger and sausage categories with the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods hitting the market to great fanfare but demand has rapidly faded.
This is reflected on the supermarket shelves with products dropping like flies. For instance, Meatless Farm has hired Kroll as it seeks to restructure while Heck has shifted its focus away from building up its vegan range and instead moved back to building up its regular products.
Andrew Keeble, founder of Heck, says: “I suppose we believed what the press were telling us about everyone stopping eating meat, but it hasn’t really happened. We’re still the fourth largest brand in vegan but that isn’t much to shout about because it’s a tiny market and you’re seeing a lot of products disappearing off shelves.”
Meanwhile in hospitality we had Honest Burgers open a vegan-only restaurant called V Honest in early 2022 in central London but it closed shortly afterwards with the conclusion that it prefers to incorporate decent meat-free options onto its regular restaurants’ offerings. Fellow burger chain Vurger Co also failed to convince sufficient numbers of diners and it recently fell into administration before being bought back by its founders following the closure of one of its restaurants. They will be hoping its three remaining sites, and its current investors, can achieve a much better result second time around.
Clearly there remains some hope for vegan QSR propositions as Neat Burger has recently raised $14.5 million to fund its expansion of outlets selling burgers made from its own pea-based protein meat substitute, which has apparently gone down well with consumers.
Zack Bishti, founder of Neat Burger, puts the failures in the market, and waning interest in plant-based foods, down to poor quality products. When a meat eater has a bad experience with a plant-based alternative (at the same price as the meat equivalent) at home or in a restaurant then this could see them writing off such options for the foreseeable future.
He might be onto something because one investor in the sector cuttingly suggested many companies had “sort of reinvented the bean burger, and there’s no economic moat behind bean burger making”.
This need for quality products has been recognised by young vegan brand Ready Burger that recently announced a partnership with manufacturer Givaudan to use its PrimeLock+ technology as it seeks to take on McDonald’s at the value end of the burger market. We are told that this creation “imitates animal fat and locks flavour and moisture into proteins, giving plant-based products a more authentically meat-like taste and texture”. Make of that what you will.
Maybe the likes of Neat and Ready Burger can prove to be stand-outs as successful vegan fast food restaurants but the jury is out for there being a plethora of such brands because they have to compete with the regular QSR operators who have simply been adding vegan options to their menus as demand has increased. Having a menu that appeals to meat eaters and vegans seems a much safer bet for long-term success than the vegan-only propositions and the current market has been telling us just this.