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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Beyond Meat’s foray into chains leaves it on shaky ethical ground

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Beyond Meat is making its way into fast-food chain menus, but is it a win for veganism or a loss for ethical consumerism?

Last week, it was Pepsi and the PLANeT partnership. Now, it’s McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and a whole load more.

Beyond Meat is cooking up a storm as it makes its way into the world’s biggest food companies. Already the largest plant-based meat company in the world, joining the menus at the likes of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut has massive implications, but potentially dangerous too.

Who is the plant-based meat giant targeting? Is it trying to market to meat-eaters and flexitarians who are potential converts? Or is this a push for vegans and vegetarians to visit chain stores more often?

On the one hand, you could argue it’s a genius move. Tap into food giants and reach otherwise inaccessible consumers to get them to try plant-based meat. Provide an option for the non-meat-eaters in an otherwise grim situation. Best-case scenario: people love it and actively work on transitioning to a meat-free, even vegan diet.

But it is, of course, naïve to think it’s that simple. Beyond Meat going into a chain’s menu mightn’t bring much change. What’s more likely is that the menu boards will be flashing with images of the new Beyond Burger or Pizza, and it could attract some attention from diners who would otherwise instinctively order a meat-based option. But, talk up the product all you like, the true test of a good plant-based meat product is how it’s cooked and how it tastes, and there’s no guarantee a meat-eater would like the flavour or want to try it again.

Read our take on why Pizza Hut missed a trick with its Beyond Meat pizzas.

mcdonald's mcplant
Photo: McDonald’s

Maybe it’s nothing more than cashing in on a profitable trend. That trend isn’t veganism, but rather using popular food chains to make meat alternatives go mainstream. Beyond Meat is everywhere right now. You’ll find it in a Starbucks sandwich just as you would on your local watering hole menu. But it’s the former that will either get people talking, for better or worse.

The other argument is about ethics. Ethical consumerism is on the rise like never before, with a company’s standards increasingly influencing buying decisions for the public. Just look at Nestlé. It released a vegan KitKat the same week it was sued for child slavery, and guess which of those everyone decided to talk about?

Does a brand as big as Beyond Meat come under scrutiny for linking up with conglomerates like McDonald’s, which have been accused of greenwashing? It’s the opposite of what the company — like any other vegan company — stands for. So it an honest attempt at roping in new consumers to the plant-based world? Or is it an example of what its new partners have constantly come under the pump for: corporate greed?

It’s also lazy on the food giants’ part. When McDonald’s first floated the idea of a plant-based burger patty (called McPlant, obviously), the expectation was that it was going together formulate its own rather than rely on Beyond Meat or Impossible. While they were false assumptions, it would have served as a more interesting option and a new player in the market.

Either way, Beyond Meat will only continue to grow, and with it the plant-based argument. Prepare to see chain menus incorporating vegan options as the — to borrow a phrase — new normal. Whether that’s a good or bad move remains to be seen.

Anay Mridul
Anay is the managing editor of The Vegan Review. A journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.