Whether driven by environmental concerns or health reasons, plant-based food has been propelled into the international spotlight. People all over the world have leaned towards vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets as plant-based foods prove to be an attractive nutritional source while promoting new sustainable standards.

More consumers want plant-based products, but they needs to be accessible, or in other words, fast and cheap. For non-vegan customers, it can be difficult to jump into a plant-forward diet, met with concerns regarding price, protein, and availability. Fast-food giants have taken note over the last year, developing several plant-based variations or brand new vegan dishes to accommodate the growing plant-based demand.

With rapidly rising popularity, plant-based or plant-based options have started appearing at more retailers and on more restaurants menus. Plant-based meat is appearing on the menu 1,320 percent more than before the pandemic, according to a report from AI Platform Tastewise. The report explained that 9.2 percent of restaurants in the US incorporate vegan meat into their menu. Now, fast-food innovation is bringing plant-based alternatives directly to consumers.

Across the entire plant-based sector, fast food giants such as McDonald’s and Burger King have paved the way for accessible plant-based eating. Although not the healthiest options, the fast-food establishment provides options for plant-based consumers. By developing healthier and more sustainable alternatives, the fast-food market is providing an entryway to millions of non-vegans who feel intimidated by the plant-based diet.

Americans have decided that even if they cannot completely eliminate animal products from their diets, then they will attempt to reduce meat and dairy consumption as much as possible. A Nielson report shows that 39 percent of Americans claim that they try to purchase alternatives to meat and dairy products whenever possible, aiming to adopt a fully plant-based diet. While only approximately 6 percent of Americans are currently fully vegan, fast food companies have developed new and enticing plant-based options that have changed the industry.

1. McDonald’s McPlant

McDonald’s finally unveiled its long-awaited plant-based burger following years of anticipation. Earlier this year, the fast-food giant announced a partnership with Beyond Meat, teasing the new plant-based future for the company. Now, the restaurant corporation is working to bring McPlant burgers to customers worldwide. The company initially released the McPlant burger in Europe, but recently, the company entered the United States market.

The fast-food chain claimed that it would be doubling down on its sustainability goals earlier this year when it promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The company declared that its sustainability measures would be enacted with a plant-based angle. The McPlant is McDonald’s biggest leap into the world of plant-based protein. The company launched the US McPlant on November 3 in Texas, California, Louisiana, and Iowa before further distribution. Keep a lookout in the new year for a McPlant near you.

2. Taco Bell Rolling Out Vegan Meat

For decades, Taco Bell provided one of the most vegan-friendly menus in the fast-food world. Loaded with beans, potatoes, guacamole, and more, the Taco Bell menu is a haven for plant-based eaters in a pinch. Over the last year, the company decided to extend its selections and enter the world of plant-based proteins. Taco Bell is finally beginning to offer plant-based meat to supplement some of its familiar favorite menu items, lightening its deeprooted reliance on beans

Taco Bell announced that it would begin introducing its proprietary vegan meat at its restaurant locations in Detroit following a successful test run in California. The plant-based meat simply called “boldly seasoned plant-based protein” will be available as a substitute for any animal-based protein free of charge.

The new plant-based protein also coincides with the company’s partnership with Beyond Meat. Earlier this year, the taco chain teamed up with Beyond to develop vegan meat to meet rising customer demands. As a favorite for many vegan customers, Taco Bell is working to broaden its menu offerings and create delicious plant-based meat available nationwide.

3. Burger King’s First Vegetarian Location

Over recent years, Burger King has managed to stay ahead of the curve. The international burger chain released the Impossible Burger when nearly no market competitors had successfully launched an alternative protein burger. This year, Burger King took its plant-based campaign a step further, opening its first fully vegetarian location in Spain.

The Vurger King pop-up took over a Burger King location in Spain to showcase the company’s strides in plant-based alternatives. The plant-based pop-up lasted one month, featuring specialized vegetarian options created in partnership with The Vegetarian Butcher. The plant-forward location showcased vegetarian alternatives for the Whopper, nugget meals, and the Long Vegetal – a plant-based version of the restaurant’s signature Long Chicken Sandwich.

4. Long John Silvers’ Vegan Crab Cakes

For years, plant-based categories such as chicken, pork, and beef alternatives have dominated the market, but over 2021, plant-based seafood pushed its way into the spotlight. Long John Silver’s – the largest fast-food seafood chain in the US – helped propel vegan seafood to the forefront of the industry, making seafood alternatives widely available earlier this year.

The fast-food chain partnered with Good Catch to provide a plant-based menu option that featured vegan crab cakes and fish-free fillets at locations across Georgia and California. The plant-based seafood marks the first time a major fast-food corporation introduced vegan seafood alternatives onto the menu. Although the company has yet to announce a nationwide release, the trial run aimed to expand the company’s consumer base and reach out to plant-based consumers nationwide.

5. Panda Express Redesigns Its Most Popular Menu Item

Throughout the last year, Beyond Meat entered into every food category in the fast-food market. Panda Express was no exception. The global American-Chinese fast-food chain revealed its Beyond The Original Orange Chicken menu item, providing a plant-based alternative to the chain’s most popular menu item.

The plant-based alternative was initially rolled out in locations across New York City and California. Following the widely successful trial run, the company then expanded its distribution across 10 additional states including Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia as well as additional locations in New York and California. The famous orange chicken substitute is set to reach customers across the United States and the company prepares for a nationwide rollout.

6. Plant Power Fast Food Expands

Fast food giants may be feeling the pressure from plant-based consumers, but Plant Power Fast Food is attempting to establish itself in a position to win. The vegan fast food company recently launched its 10th location in Vegas, marking the first time that the company exited its home state of California. The innovative fast food concept provides an extensive and delicious selection of fast-food classics without any animal-based ingredients, setting a sustainable standard for fast food cuisine.

Plant Power Fast Food recently partnered with Scale x 3 Management – a real estate group based in the Southwest United States – to begin a rapid expansion nationwide. The plant-based company intends to bring vegan fast food to consumers everywhere, preparing an accessible and attractive vegan option for American consumers. The company’s expansion follows a $7.5 million Series A funding round dedicated to expanding its storefront presence across the United States.

“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 of Plant Power Fast Food Jeffrey Harris said. “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.”

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