Vegan fast food options used to exist by accident — or, at least that’s how it felt. Options were fries with ketchup, a baked potato (thanks, Wendy’s), a sandwich piled high with (mostly) iceberg lettuce, or a bean burrito — hold the sour cream and cheese, add potatoes and avocado.
For the past few years, fast-casual chains have been adding vegan options, gravitating toward leading brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. But, 2019 felt like the year that vegan fast food officially went mainstream.
Testing, Testing, 123…
The new year might be even bigger for vegan food, if test markets are any indication. Several of the options below, which became permanent menu items, started as tests. This year, fried chicken giant KFC conducted a one-day trial on vegan chicken in Atlanta and Ontario. Beyond Meat developed the menu test item for the U.S. market while Lightlife chicken was used in Canada. Both sold out before the end of the day.
Pizza Hut trialed vegan meat topping, made by Kellogg-owned brand MorningStar Farms, in Phoenix last October. Little Caesar’s also launched a trial, featuring vegan sausage crumbles made by Impossible Foods. In Canada, select 7-Eleven stores introduced Beyond Meat-topped pizza.
Sandwich shops also want to see how well plant-based options perform. Subway introduced the Beyond Meatball Marinara at 600 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Denver Quiznos locations added vegan corned beef, made by California-based brand Mrs. Goldfarb’s UnReal Deli. Fast-food giants McDonald’s and Wendy’s trialed vegan burgers in Canada.
With so much to look forward to in the new year, here are the top vegan fast food launches of 2019.
U.S. Vegan Fast Food Launches
This might just be the year that vegan fast food went mainstream. Here are the major launches in the U.S. market.
Burger King had the year’s biggest launch, introducing the Impossible Whopper to more than 7,000 locations nationwide on August 8. The fast-food giant initially trialed the meat-free Whopper — which can be made vegan by leaving off the mayonnaise — at 59 locations in St. Louis. The official launch was originally planned for the end of the year, but it was such a success that Burger King moved up the date. Last November, Burger King announced that it was trialing three new Impossible Whoppers at select locations.
Coffee and donut chain Dunkin’ kicked off a partnership with California-based vegan meat brand, Beyond Meat. The two brands introduced the Beyond Breakfast Sandwich, featuring a vegan sausage patty, egg, and cheese on an English muffin. Make it vegan by ordering it without the egg and cheese, and add hash browns. The sandwich was trialed in 163 Manhattan locations over the summer and a nationwide launch followed in November. According to Dunkin’, the test item was the second best-selling sandwich on the menu. It may only be the beginning. “I think this is going to be a partnership for years to come,” Dunkin’ CEO David Hoffman said in an interview with CNBC.
Carl’s Jr. & Hardee’s
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, both owned by CKE, added new vegan options. Hardee’s added the Beyond Burger and Beyond Breakfast Sausage to the menu on October 16. Both restaurants launched breakfast menus featuring Beyond Meat this month.
Mexican-inspired fast food chain Del Taco launched Beyond Meat beefy crumbles last March and became one of the most successful launches in the company’s history. The beefy crumbles can be swapped for beef in any of the menu items. In June, Del Taco added two new burritos — one featuring Beyond Meat’s vegan beef crumbles and the other, stuffed with french fries — to the menu.
The Impossible Burger launched in all 570 Red Robin restaurants in April. Diners can customize their burgers with any bread and toppings they like. The rustic Italian bread, ciabatta buns, spinach tortillas, and lettuce wraps are all vegan.
Canadian Vegan Fast Food Launches
Canada had a couple of its own big launches. Here’s what launched in Canadian fast food restaurants this year.
Iconic Canadian restaurant Tim Hortons launched Beyond Meat Breakfast Sausages in May and Beyond Burgers in July. It also trialed the JUST Egg, made by San Francisco-based food tech company JUST, starting in July. However, in September, Tim Hortons pulled the Beyond Meat items from all locations outside of British Columbia and Ontario. “These menu items were introduced as limited time offerings and may be brought back in the future,” the company said in a statement.
After the success of the Beyond Burger launch last year, A&W Canada was more than ready to expand its vegan options. March saw to the launch of the Beyond Breakfast Sausage and in October, the chain introduced Lightlife chicken nuggets in British Columbia and Ontario stores. Depending on how well it performs, A&W Canada may add vegan chicken nuggets to menus nationwide.
U.K. Vegan Fast Food Launches
The U.K. didn’t skimp on vegan food launches this year, either. Here are the top new menu items.
Greggs shook up the UK when it launched its highly-anticipated vegan sausage roll at the start of the year. In the weeks following the launch, the bakery chain struggled to meet the immense demand in a testament to the demand for vegan options. Greggs recently teased that it will launch more vegan food in the new year.
Subway, the world’s largest fast food chain, introduced the Vegan Signature Loaded Wrap in July. The meat-free wrap features a double portion of Subway’s vegan patty, guacamole, lettuce, onion, peppers, tomato, and eggless garlic aioli in a tomato basil wrap.
The first vegan Happy Meal launched in McDonald’s in January. Its meatless goujons are made from rice, split peas, dairy-free red pepper pesto. According to McDonald’s, it has seen an 80 percent rise in vegetarian orders this year. The meatless Happy Meal is such a hit, that the fast food chain will begin preparing it in a designated vegan area starting next year.
American pizza chain Papa John’s had a big year. It kicked off the year by launching vegan cheese at all UK locations, only to sell out on the first day. In the following months, Papa John’s introduced a wide variety of new options, including cheesy wedges, dairy-free ice cream, vegan hot dog pizza, Marmite scrolls, and cinnamon scrolls. The company put out a job ad for a “Chef Vegan Officer” to help develop new menu items.
Pizza Hut UK also kicked off the year by introducing new vegan options. It launched a jackfruit and dairy-free cheese topped pizza in January. Originally intended to be a Veganuary special, sales were so strong that the chain made it a permanent item before the month came to a close. In October, Pizza Hut UK launched a fifth vegan pizza, nuggets, and dairy-free cheesecake.
Australian Vegan Fast Food Launches
Hungry Jacks — the Australian fast-food franchise of Burger King — launched a vegan Rebel Whopper back in May. The menu item features a “bleeding” plant-based meat patty. The chain also offers a Vegan Muffin, a Vegan Avocado Muffin, and a Vegan Cheeseburger, which features a vegan vegetable patty, vegan cheese, and vegan mayonnaise.
You can now get vegan cheese at every Pizza Hut in Australia. It now offers four pies — four pies: Vegan Mediterranean, Vegan Deluxe, Vegan Cheese Lovers, and Vegan Margherita — topped with Dairy Free Down Under Cheese.
Domino’s Australia launched three vegan meat toppings this year — beef, ham, and pepperoni. The beef, introduced early in the year, was a huge hit, with 50 percent of stores across the country selling out. The chain introduced new pizzas to complement the launch, including plant-based Hawaiian, Ham and Cheese, Supreme, and Pepperoni.