How vegan-friendly are international fast food chains? We carried out some research on availability of plant-based options on the menus of the big players. The result: there are some positive attempts, but a lot of work remains to be done.
The number of people choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle has been skyrocketing over the last couple of years, along with the demand for more plant-based food choices. Changes are happening so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with the latest developments. This ProVeg ranking is meant to serve as a guide for customers to see which of the popular restaurant chains are keeping pace with the increasing demand for animal-free food – and which ones aren’t.
Market study: To improve the availability and quality of plant-based options
Understanding the market is key. By analysing potentials and shortcomings of the current situation, ProVeg reveals the supply gaps in the availability and quality of plant-based menu items. Additionally, ProVeg consults with the food service industry on how to adjust menus and marketing strategies to meet the growing demand for food items containing little or no animal products. Nudging companies to make plant-based options more widely available is not just about solving a convenience issue – it is well aligned with our mission to reduce animal product consumption by 50 % in 2040.
Subway, McDonald’s or Pizza Hut – where to go as a vegan?
We analysed the menus of the five biggest international fast food companies in 15 different countries. The result: different countries, different menus. A particular fast-food chain might be a great option for plant-based eaters in one country, yet may leave them hungry in another.
The chain with the widest divergence between countries is Pizza Hut: while customers in the United Kingdom even have the choice of a plant-based cheese on top of their veggie pizza, Pizza Hut branches in other countries only offer a small selection of vegan snacks. In Germany, not even the pizza base is free from animal products.
If you’re a fan of Subway, you may want to travel to Poland: the three vegan creations on offer can be ordered as subs, wraps, or salads. Even the ‘Sub of the Day’ is vegan on two days of the week. In most other countries, however, vegan customers can only fill their sandwich with items from the topping menu, since (except for Finland and Sweden) the veggie patty contains egg. On average, three to four of the sauces are fully plant-based.
If you are in Finland or Sweden, you can head for the golden arches: Those are the only countries where McDonald’s has the ‘McVegan’ on the menu, with Finland also offering a second main dish free of animal products. While McDonald’s UK offers two vegetarian burger variations, vegan people need to request them without sauce. Although vegan snacks and desserts are available in most countries, certain products that are usually vegan may have animal product components in selected places – such as the milk-containing apple pie in Poland. With not a single vegan main dish on the menu, China and the USA are the countries with the least options for plant-based eaters who wish to eat at McDonald’s.
The Netherlands offers the most vegan-friendly branches of Burger King: burgers here can be customised on request – although you’ll want to leave out the sauce on the veggie burger to make it vegan. Burger King UK also offers a plant-based Kids Burger with a patty made of beans.
At this stage, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is not a good option for vegans in any of the countries analysed. Vegans eating at KFC would have to satisfy their hunger with a small selection of snacks such as fries and salads. However, KFC is planning to launch a vegetarian option in the UK and South Africa by 2019.
National fast food chains more plant-based
In two countries – namely Germany and the Netherlands – ProVeg had a closer look at the status quo in the national food services sector. In a more detailed analysis, supported by the German trade magazine Foodservice, a larger number of restaurant chains was compared in terms of their vegan-friendliness regarding menu items and labelling.
There is good news for vegans and vegetarians in Germany: while finding satisfying meal options in the big international restaurants may present a challenge, some national food chains have adapted to the latest developments much faster. The ProVeg ranking of German restaurant chains reveals that 7 out of 20 companies are well-positioned to serve the growing market of vegan customers. With both variety and clear labelling, the top-ranked restaurants send a welcoming invitation to people who do not want to constantly phrase extra requests to order a meal aligned with their lifestyle choices.
There is also good news from the Netherlands: the growing demand for plant-based options is being met by both local and international restaurant chains. The highest scores in the Dutch ProVeg ranking were achieved by a local company with a wide range of salads and health foods and by two large international pizza chains. Whereas in many countries customers of Domino’s and New York Pizza need to specifically request ingredients to be left out to veganise their pizza, the Dutch branches offer vegan pizzas and ice cream on their regular menu.
Room for development
While some of the international fast food chains are commendable in their first attempts to add plant-based meals to their menus, the overall conclusion is that there is still a lot of room for improvements. Even those companies which target meat-lovers need to acknowledge the ongoing trend towards more healthy, sustainable, and cruelty-free food choices. It’s the small restaurant chains that have recognized the movement much earlier – and by satisfying the increased demand, they can now be considered valid competitors to the big players. Customers are looking for alternatives, while sales of traditional fast foods are declining. To keep their market shares, McDonald’s, Burger King, and others need to rethink their positions on plant-based options and take appropriate action.
ProVeg aims to have a long-lasting impact on the strategic direction of restaurant chains, helping to shift their focus towards greener food items. Using their wide reach to introduce customers to healthier and more sustainable meals may be a powerful step towards broadening the rethinking process in society. Not only is there a lot of innovative potential in creating vegan fast food options, but, by expanding their menu variety, big restaurant chains also get to realise their social responsibilities. Meeting the increasing demand of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians is a win-win situation – for both the conscious customer and the company’s bottom line.[vc_tta_accordion gap=”2″ active_section=”” collapsible_all=”true” el_class=”accordion-proveg” title=”Background Information”][vc_tta_section title=”Methodology” tab_id=”1544193508493-f1a03a55-4784″]
Selected companies: The 5 biggest international companies in the fast food sector (measured in terms of revenue), as listed in: Die größten Unternehmen/Systeme der Gastronomie in Deutschland (2018): Außer-Haus-Markt Jahrbuch 2016/17
Countries analyzed: Austria, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA
Approach: Analysis of fast food chain’s websites (reporting date: Sept. 11, 2018)
Scoring: Maximum score: 9 points 3 categories, scores for percentage shares within total product range: Main dishes (max. 6.5 points), side dishes (max. 1 point), desserts (max. 1.5 points)[/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Background and FAQs” tab_id=”1544193508570-67471c7d-836f”]
How reliable is the information? All information on food items was provided by the companies themselves, while missing data was researched by ProVeg. ProVeg’s analysis refers to the state of menus in September 2018, and, as such, is subject to change.
ProVeg’s position on fast food restaurants An increasing number of people are reducing meat consumption and aiming for more sustainable lifestyle choices. ProVeg encourages a shift towards sustainability in all areas, including big restaurant chains. Any attempt that will help to increase the availability of plant-based options by making them more accessible to the broader public is in accordance with ProVeg’s mission. Their wide reach and the huge numbers of branches put fast food companies in an influential position – they can be major contributors to the introduction of healthier, more sustainable products. ProVeg neither confirms nor rejects criticism that many restaurant chains have controversial standards regarding their ecological impact and animal welfare. It’s ProVeg’s position that the urgently needed shift in society is a step-by-step process that can only be achieved by engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders involved.[/vc_tta_section][/vc_tta_accordion]