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Will they, or won’t they? Domino’s, McDonald's talk plant-based strategy

Big chains feel pressure as new NPD data shows young diners crave vegan meats

Plant-based menu items, either permanent or limited-time offers, are driving more consumers into restaurants including Millennials — a demographic the industry craves the most, according to new research by The NPD Group and Datassential.

Since the core consumer groups for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives are younger, NPD forecasts that plant-based foods, to varying degrees, do have staying power,” market research firm The NPD Group said Monday in a new plant-based foods report.

Dennys_Becomes_First_In_Family-b993e788ece80b0e07481c84abefb75e.pngBurger King, Del Taco, White Castle and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers have led the plant-based craze by adding products to menus systemwide. On Monday, Denny’s restaurants in Los Angeles joined the movement by adding a Beyond Meat burger (left) to their menu. The family-dining full-service chain said the Denny's Beyond Burger will land on menus nationwide in 2020.

Datassential research shows that plant-based foods are generating high interest among consumers. The firm said Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and KFC’s test of Beyond Fried Chicken Nuggets scored well among consumers who ranked the products for uniqueness, draw and frequency. It’s rare for a single limited-time offer to score high marks on all three metrics, Mark Brandau, managing editor at Datassential, told Nation’s Restaurant News.

Big quick-service chains are taking notice including KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and McDonald’s.

All are exploring plant-based foods. Though, in the case of Domino’s, the brand’s research has remained in-house, CEO Ritch Allison told reporters during a media event held at chain’s headquarters last week.

For the brand to adopt a plant-based food, Allison said the item would have meet the chain’s high standards for value and taste.  

“We need a product that consumers love and that we can be proud of,” he said.


McDonald's is testing a Beyond Meat vegan patty in Canada.

Domino’s rival, Pizza Hut, is moving at a slightly faster pace.

The division of Yum Brands tested a plant-based sausage topping at a store in Arizona last week.

The LTO pizza featured an Incogmeato Italian sausage made by MorningStar Farms, and was served in a round compostable box. Most consumers told the brand that they couldn’t tell difference after trying the plant-based sausage during the one-day test.

“Pizza Hut sold out the product in one day and received rave reviews,” the brand told NRN in a statement.

No word, however, on a systemwide rollout. “We’ll keep you posted,” the company said.

In September, McDonald’s began testing a Beyond Meat vegan patty in Canada.

During the Chicago-based chain’s Oct. 22 third-quarter earnings call, CEO Steve Easterbrook said the 28-store test is still in its early stages of testing.

Easterbrook said Ontario is a “great spot” for testing and will help the brand “speed up our intelligence” on how North America and Europe will respond to the product.

“We want to get the taste right. We want to get the marketing right. We want to get the operations right,” Easterbrook told investors.

Flavor is important to a successful plant-based menu launch, according to NPD.

“First and foremost taste is king when considering entering the plant-based food category,” Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, said in a statement released Monday. “Attributes such as health and convenience go far to drive consumption, but if the flavor profile falls below consumers’ expectations, then the product will likely have a short run.”

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

TAGS: Menu
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