Vegan Fast Food Is on the Rise

Food and Agriculture
vegan fast food restaurant in Las Vegas

Plant Power Fast Food is expanding across California and beyond, with it's 10th location opening in Las Vegas. Plant Power Fast Food

New company Plant Power Fast Food is taking on fast-food mega-giants and making a bet on plant-based eating as the “way of the future.” With more attention on heart- and planet-healthy eating generally, plant-based fast food options are proliferating across the industry.

The company, based in California, has a strong base near colleges and recently opened its 10th location in food-centric Las Vegas, reported The Beet. That store is the chain’s first outside of California and is part of a strategic expansion plan across the golden state and beyond.

Plant-based fast food isn’t a new idea, of course. Giants Burger King and McDonald’s have tried runs with Impossible and Beyond burgers, respectively. Following a successful month-long trial run of vegan/vegetarian burger options in 2019, the former rolled out the meatless Impossible Whopper nationwide to all of its 7,200 branches. They are also currently trialing Impossible nuggets as a chicken alternative. McDonald’s similarly trialed plant-based patties from meatless competitor Beyond Meat for six months in 2019-20 but ended the trial abruptly.

“I was really upset because it’s the only thing on the menu that I could eat,” London, Ontario-based vegan customer Jenna Walker-Cronk told CBC News at the time.

Both Beyond Meat and McDonald’s claimed the trial had gone well and that plant-based options would return to the golden arches “at the right time.” That time is apparently now, with McDonald’s recent announcement that the McPlant would begin rolling out to select markets this month. The McDonald’s exclusive, plant-based patty was co-developed by Beyond Meat out of peas, rice and potatoes.

Chains like Del Taco and Taco Bell also offer plant-based taco meat inside tacos and burritos, and Chinese food takeout giant Panda Express has expanded its rollout of Beyond Meat vegan orange chicken, QSR reported. The new menu item, a plant-based play on their most popular dish, became the chain’s most popular new offering since 1987.

“We received an overwhelmingly positive guest response when we introduced Beyond The Original Orange Chicken at select locations earlier this year,” Jimmy Wang, Panda Express’ Executive Director of Culinary Innovation, told QSR. “It’s one of Panda’s most successful regional launches to date, which further reinforces the desire we’re seeing from our guests for more diverse and plant-based options.”

Still, despite these huge shifts in corporate focus and marketing of meat alternatives, the vast majority of fast-food chains lack vegan options, a November 2021 report found. Of the 50 restaurants analyzed, 43 lacked recourse for customers looking for something different, and the top veg-friendly restaurants were Taco Bell, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

There could be many reasons for this delay. First, there are many myths surrounding plant-based eating, from a lack of protein or texture to prohibitive cost. Health-care professionals and companies offering these products work to dispel many of these.

Some skeptics of these meatless burgers, nuggets and tacos point out the fact that they aren’t healthier than their meaty predecessors. This is often true, calorically. There are also concerns over the GMO soy being used in the Impossible Burger. Nevertheless, consumers and fast food chains aren’t necessarily flocking to these options as a better health alternative but rather as an ethical and environmental one. These burgers may be just as unhealthy to eat, but their improvement over traditional meat in terms of carbon and water footprints is significant.

As for Plant Power Fast Food, they’ve got their eye to compete with the behemoths. Partnering with real estate group Scale x 3 Management, they will begin franchising and rapid, large-scale expansion efforts, The Beet reported.

The company hopes to “bring a fast-food experience without any worries regarding cross-contamination, animal-based ingredient and substitution,” the report noted. “Any plant-based consumer can walk in and eat anything on the menu.”

Unlike traditional vegan and vegetarian restaurants, which often involve a sit-down eating experience, the new chain will still function as a fast-food operation. That means the stores will still be able to handle large crowds and quick order times.

“We’re grateful to see major chains adding plant-based options to their menus, but there’s no doubt that consumers are seeking out progressive new brands with an authentic commitment to taste and sustainability,” co-founder and chief executive officer Jeffrey Harris told The Beet. “The massive growth that we’ve experienced since we started in 2016 is proof that the time is right for a major 100 percent plant-based, cruelty-free, sustainable, and healthier option in the fast-food segment.”

Tiffany Duong is a writer, explorer and inspirational speaker. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As a contributing reporter at EcoWatch, she gives voice to what’s happening in the natural world. Her mission is to inspire meaningful action and lasting change. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram/TikTok @tiffmakeswaves.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter