August 15, 2019

Plant-Based Options Grow Greener Pastures for QSRs

The introduction of plant-based alternatives to conventional menus is having a measurable impact on the restaurant industry. Sales of meatless replacements increased 268% from 2018 to 2019, and producers are struggling to keep up with the demand. Reports show that the salad days are here to stay and will continue to surge for years to come.

The positive effects of this growing trend are not lost on the Fast Casual and Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) categories. They include: introducing new customers to the category; bringing back lapsed customers; and, most significantly, helping retain loyal customers who would otherwise be vetoed by friends wanting a vegan or vegetarian option. It’s a proverbial win-win-win, and QSR brands like Carl’s Jr. and Del Taco, who are capitalizing on this moment, are gaining a distinct competitive edge. For restaurants to truly succeed in this new space however, it is important to know key details about the people drawn to plant-based foods: who they are, what they like, and how to speak their language.

Carl’s Jr. "Beyond Famous Star®" burger, featuring "Beyond Meat®" patty.


Turning Over (and Looking Under) a New Leaf        

Restaurant brands can quickly discern the explanatory drivers behind this trend using Quantifind’s proprietary machine learning capability. Modeling social conversations against sales data allows the pinpointing of what are defined as “buyers” or probable customers—those individuals who help propel business forward. In the process, it becomes clear who is talking about plant-based foods, exactly what they are saying, and what specifically differentiates them from the typical consumer. This valuable intelligence and deep insight can inform compelling and effective marketing/activation strategies directed with precision at a clearly defined persona.

Looking at trend-based data from the Quantifind platform, plant-based conversations have more than doubled over the past year while consumers talking about specific brands of meatless alternatives like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are up 18 and 11 times respectively. A significant volume of that conversation is overwhelmingly positive, and data shows that consumers discussing plant-based foods are one and a half times more likely to be age 55 and over.

Plant-Based Proteins Demographics

The QSR brands that offer plant-forward options are sprouting up more than ever on the minds of vegans and vegetarians. In measuring their conversations, there is a 36% increase in buyer-related references to these brands, so the trend is definitely attracting consumers who historically may have avoided these restaurants.

Share of Vegetarians/Vegans Talking About Brands

And a fuller, more dimensional consumer profile suggests that it’s not just the vegan/vegetarian buyer that finds plant-based options appealing. These consumers skew more liberal, support charities, prioritize organic products and a health-centric lifestyle and are advocates of animal rights and the environment. They differ markedly from your average QSR customer and suggest a clear opportunity for these restaurants to broaden their base market.

Consumer Persona

On a more granular level, Quantifind’s consumer conversation analysis reveals another critical insight specific to menu offerings: plant-based considerations need to extend beyond the main meal, into accompaniments and sauces, to fully benefit from this fertile new market.

Going with the Grain

Clearly, the plant-based trend is ascendant, with the potential for growth opportunities in restaurant categories where you normally wouldn’t expect it. Successfully appealing to a new customer archetype requires a deep understanding of their motivations and values, beyond stereotypes and assumptions. These are the things Quantifind is uniquely equipped to tease out of social conversations and deliver meaningful and actionable insight. To learn more about what is feeding the plant-based trend and whether it is here to stay, contact Quantifind at