- Arby’s latest creation is a “megetable” called the “Marrot,” a carrot made of meat that looks and tastes just like the orange vegetable.
- The move comes as many other fast-food brands move in the opposite direction, making a mad dash to pen deals with faux meat providers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in order to accommodate vegetarian and vegan consumers.
- Although vegetarianism and veganism may appear to be on the rise, “fewer than one in 10 Americans report that they adhere to such diets” and the numbers have changed by very little since 2012, according to Gallup.
- Still, plant-based products are undoubtedly gaining popularity, as food delivery service Grubhub reported that the Impossible Burger is the number one order for late-night eaters.
- Peter Saleh, a Managing Director and Restaurants Analyst at BTIG, told INSIDER that he questions whether plant-based meats are a “real trend in the space” for fast-food consumers.
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After releasing the world’s first “megetable” — a carrot made out of turkey — last week, Arby’s received a scathing response from PETA and sparked a larger debate about the future of plant-based meats in the fast food indsutry.
While everyone from Burger King to Del Taco has invested in the likes of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats, at least one fast food industry expert is skeptical about the sustainability of the alternative meats craze.
Peter Saleh, a Managing Director and Restaurants Analyst at BTIG, told INSIDER that he questions whether plant-based meats are a “real trend” for fast-food consumers.
The “Marrot” came just weeks after many of Arby’s competitors, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., and Del Taco, publicly embraced vegan “meat” by partnering with companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Many more brands are making a mad dash to pen deals with faux meat providers in hopes of accommodate to vegetarian and vegan consumers, as well as environmentalists and those interested in healthier fast-food options.
“Clearly this plant-based meat is the new hottest subject,” Saleh told INSIDER. “It’s a very competitive and saturated environment, but there are a lot of issues here. My suspicion is that, at least at first, there’s going to be some trial, but how much of this actually sticks nobody quite knows yet.”
First on Saleh’s list is whether fast-food consumers truly care about the benefits of plant-based meats. Although vegetarianism and veganism may appear to be on the rise, “fewer than one in 10 Americans report that they adhere[d] to such diets,” according to Gallup. The study revealed that 5% of Americans identified as vegetarian in 2018, which is the same percentage that identified as such in 2012. Similarly, veganism rose just one percentage point — from 2% to 3% — in that same time span.
Still, there is a sizable contingent of consumers who are interested in plant-based meats. According to Grubhub‘s recently released “State of the Plate” report, which lists the year’s top dining trends and culinary forecasts for the remainder of 2019, the Impossible Burger is the number one order for late-night eaters.
Saleh is skeptical that a sizeable portion of those touting alternative diets would turn to fast-food companies regularly enough to justify the sizeable investment in plant-based meats. He would also be surprised to see those searching for healthier meal options or foods with a reduced carbon footprint turn to fast food brands to fill those needs.
“Does the typical customer really care? Is this a health thing? Do they really care about plant-based meat or is it just something that’s so new that they’re giving it some trial?” Saleh posed. “I’m not sure that the [fast food] customer that’s walking in there to get a Whopper or Double Whopper really cares about a healthier, plant-based option. They would say this is drawing in a new customer, but that’s yet to be determined.”
On top of this potential lack of long-term interest, Saleh notes that plant-based meat products are significantly more expensive to produce, and thus are significantly more expensive to purchase as a consumer. He suggested that that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products could be “25% or 30% more expensive” than authentic meat alternatives.
At Del Taco, “The Del Taco,” which comes with seasoned beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and chopped tomatoes, costs $1.59. The comparable “Beyond Taco,” which features all of the same ingredients but substitutes beef for plant-based Beyond Meat, costs $2.49, a nearly 57% price increase.
“Is the consumer willing to pay the higher price point for the plant-based meats?,” Saleh said. “I’m not talking about a short-term thing, I’m talking about a long-term trend. Are customers willing to pay this higher price point and hold on to that for years? I’m not convinced that they are.”
Ultimately, Saleh thinks it’s too soon to determine whether plant-based meat products will become ubiquitous across fast-food providers.
“It’s just too early to tell whether this is going to be everywhere and if this is a real trend in the space,” Saleh said. “There’s just a lot of buzz and excitement around it right now, but I think time will tell whether this is a platform or a kind of promotion.”
But even if plant-based meats do take a firm hold on the industry, Saleh said he wasn’t surprised by Arby’s firm pushback against the trend.
“Their marketing slogan is ‘We have the meats,'” he laughed. “After years of hammering over the head with that, did they really want to start marketing something that’s not meat? It feels like it would be inconsistent with their brand message.”
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