With “Veganuary” well underway, plant-based diets and dishes are firmly in the spotlight. A recent study from the Vegan Society revealed that there are around 600,000 vegans now living in Britain alone, meaning that meat-free meals are increasingly on the agenda. Small wonder that fast food businesses are muscling in on the market.
Last year saw famous brands like KFC and McDonald’s announce plans for vegan-friendly products to appeal to this growing demographic. Now, at the start of a new decade, Burger King appear to have joined the movement with the release of their Rebel Whopper. However, as quickly became abundantly clear, all was not as it seemed with the plant-based dish.
Despite being made with a meat-free patty, it was soon revealed that the sandwich is surprisingly “not suitable” for vegans and vegetarians. According to a report by the BBC, the “soy-based version of (the) Whopper burger is cooked on the same grill as meat burgers,” meaning that it has contact with the meaty patties that it is intended to replace. To top it off, the Rebel is also served with egg-based mayonnaise.
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The revelations around the dish’s cooking method prompted an almost immediate backlash on social media. Several accused the brand of “jumping on the bandwagon” of veganism, while Lifestyle blogger Donna Wishart wrote on Twitter:
“And it’s served with mayonnaise with eggs in. When every other fast food company is delivering actual vegan products it’s such a shame Burger King can’t be bothered to do the same.”
Sam Calvert, head of communications at the Vegan Society, echoed these claims, stating that the decision to not make the new burger vegan "seems a missed opportunity" and that products like vegan mayonnaise are “readily available” and used by competitors.
Though the backlash was severe, Burger King quickly issued a response. Katie Evans, marketing director for the brand, said the burger was aimed at "flexitarians" and was intended to recreated Burger King’s "flame-grilled taste" as closely as possible.
Perhaps surprisingly, Toni Vernelli, international head of communications and marketing at Veganuary, also rejected the idea that the brand was attempting to "capitalise on the vegan pound", insisting that "increasing the availability of plant-based options" was ultimately the best way to reduce overall meat consumption.