Fast-food chains join meatless movement

Fast-food chains are jumping aboard the meatless bandwagon, offering plant-based burgers, chicken and sausages as alternatives for those practicing Lenten sacrifice.

Wayback Burgers on Wednesday is launching its Impossible Melt, a burger with a plant-based patty made of soy, potato proteins and heme, an iron-rich molecule that gives the texture, taste and smell of beef. It will be available until April 10 or while supplies last.

“Launching the Impossible Melt during the Lent season when consumption of meat is reduced due to some religious followings seemed like an appropriate time for us to bring this item to our guests,” said Patrick Conlin, president of Wayback Burgers. “Our guests who observe Lent have told us they’ve grown tired of fish and pizza as the only options on Friday nights, and for those craving meat, we now offer a Lent-friendly solution.”

On Jan. 30, Denny’s began offering its plant-based Beyond Burger at more than 1,700 locations across the U.S. and Canada after a successful trial in Los Angeles restaurants. Burger King has been selling a meatless burger called the Impossible Whopper nationwide since August.

Last month, Hooters began serving 100% meatless Unreal Wings — made with Quorn, a fermented fungus-based meat substitute — at more than 300 locations across the U.S.

And Dunkin’ Donuts launched its vegetarian Beyond Sausage Sandwich in November and began serving it at more than 9,000 restaurants following a successful test in Manhattan.

“We’ve heard from guests looking for more vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu items at Dunkin’, so we’re excited to offer the Beyond Sausage Sandwich on our menu,” said Dunkin’ spokeswoman Brynn Sandy.

Ms. Sandy said the meatless sandwich quickly rose to become a top-selling menu item, which prompted the donut company to nationally launch it.

Retail sales of plant-based meatless products in the U.S. have risen 11% in the last year, increasing the value of the plant-based market to $4.5 billion, according to data released in 2019 by The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.

“As sales of plant-based foods continue to grow in retail, it is natural that restaurants are following the consumers and adding more plant-based options to their menus,” said association spokesman Michael Robbins. “The growth of plant-based food alternatives will continue in fast food chains and restaurants as consumers continue to demand healthy, sustainable options and restaurants respond to that demand with continued menu expansion and diversification.”

The UBS Chief Investment Office estimates the plant-based meatless market will grow to $85 billion by 2030.

Charles Stahler, co-director of the Vegetarian Resource Group, said there has always been a demand for natural plant-based products such as rice and peas, but that there appears to be many more processed “quick and easy plant-based foods out there.”

“This is for a combination of many reasons related to health, environment, animal rights, convenience, money being put in by investors, and a larger variety of tastes of foods,” Mr. Stahler said. “Any additional meatless options being offered is great and helpful to consumers.” For a limited time earlier this month, KFC offered vegetarian chicken nuggets. The chicken fast food chain introduced the Beyond Fried Chicken Feb. 3 at select locations in Charlotte, Nashville and surrounding areas until last Sunday.

The limited offer followed the “overwhelmingly successful test launch” in Atlanta last summer, KFC said in a news release, making it the first national U.S. quick service restaurant to introduce plant-based chicken.

CKE Restaurants Holdings, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., offers meatless options at both fast-food chains. Hardee’s began testing a meatless burger and sausage biscuit sandwich in select markets in October. Carl’s Jr. has a meatless cheeseburger available for its customers.

Stephen Kaufman, chair of the Christian Vegetarian Association, said it is a good thing that more people are consuming plant-based foods. He described Wayback Burgers’ launch of its meatless option on the start of Lent as a “thoughtful marketing approach.”

“A lot of people give up something for Lent, and giving up meat is certainly one of the things they could give up,” Dr. Kaufman said. “We encourage people as much as possible to adopt a plant-based diet. It’s just part of being a compassionate human being. Our ethics, Christian or otherwise, call on us to be kind and compassionate and obviously, a plant-based diet goes a long way toward that goal.”