Fake It Till You Make It: Plant-Based Meat Alternatives in Quick-Service Restaurants

Quick-service restaurants (QSR) and plant-based meat alternative manufacturers (PBMA) have engaged in partnerships to co-launch plant-based products in a foodservice category designed to provide taste and comfort in a fast and affordable way.

Report summary

PBMA players rely on QSR’s massive operations to expand volumes and ultimately achieve economies of scale quickly. Most leading QSR players have been vocal that PBMA can drive top-line growth by expanding options to more consumers and attracting more diverse parties. This report highlights two additional benefits of having PBMA on menus: a lower environmental footprint and a new attempt to catch up with expanding fast-casual competitors.

New launches often attract media and consumer attention – a potentially short-lived phenomenon as the initial hype eventually fades. Sales performance for these products varies, and exact numbers are unknown. Moreover, some recently unveiled PBMA products have been removed from menus or had distribution downgraded to fewer markets without announcing a replacement. No main QSR chain has publicly dropped its commitment to new or improved PBMA products in its innovation targets, but the move has fueled speculations on the acceptance of these novel products by consumers and franchisees.

As PBMA products and technologies continue to improve, consumers increasingly engage in experimentation. As the environmental agenda gains track, QSR is a first-comer in a niche food segment that could represent permanent innovation in the foodservice industry and conquer a relevant share in consumers’ stomachs and wallets. Meanwhile, there are inherent challenges that need to be addressed by both QSR and PBMA players to develop a mutually beneficial story.

Understanding the potential value PBMA may bring to diverse QSR operations remains key to properly driving product development and promotion, affecting the overall operation, R&D, and marketing strategy. Similarly, it will determine to what extent PBMA players can rely on QSR volumes for their expansion plans.