The likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC are no longer the preserve of meat-lovers.
The new hot topic for the conglomerates is ‘plant-based’ food as they strive to replicate the taste and texture of meat for vegans and vegetarians.
The latest weapon to be unleashed across the West Midlands is the vegan nugget, which was put on sale last week in Burger King branches and comes on top of its Vegan Royale.
The fast food chain has pledged to make its menu 50 per cent meat-free by 2030, a response both to the growing health trend towards vegetarian food and the link between the farming of cattle and global warming.
It says the new nuggets, along with the Royale, taste the same as the meat originals despite being made from only soy and plant proteins, and are certified by the Vegan Society.
The new nuggets follow Burger King releasing a plant-based Rebel Whopper burger two years ago, which was later revealed to be unsuitable for vegans because it was cooked on the same grill as meat. Demand for vegan products is soaring, and the chain last year came back with the Vegan Royale burger that is prepared separately from animal products.
It said its 2030 50 per cent meat-free aim would help it achieve a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 41 per cent.
Rival McDonald’s already sells some “accidentally vegan” Veggie Dippers, but also recently launched its vegan McPlant burger in the UK, while the Greggs vegan sausage roll and vegan steak bake have achieved a following amongst vegans and non-vegans alike.
Burger King UK chief executive Alasdair Murdoch said: “Adapting to customer preferences is a key focus at Burger King – we are committed to helping our guests make good decisions about what they eat and drink and providing them with informed choices – whether through clear nutrition and allergen labelling, or by offering vegan and vegetarian options.
“The launch is another positive step in reducing our carbon footprint and driving innovation in our menus in response to growing demand for meatless alternatives.”
McDonald’s trialled its McPlant burger last year in a few branches in the West Midlands and after a successful run it has now decided to roll it out to all McDonald’s branches.
The McPlant took the company three years to develop in collaboration with Los Angeles-based meat substitute producers Beyond Meat.
It features one plant-based patty, a vegan sesame bun, mustard, ketchup, vegan sauce, fresh onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato and vegan cheese.
As Burger King and McDonald’s battle it out, KFC is preparing to join the party. It currently sells a popular vegan burger amongst the feast of chicken on offer in various forms. The chicken-like snack is the only option for vegetarians venturing into KFC. But now it is preparing to venture into the realm of plant-based fried ‘chicken’.
KFC was today rolling out its new offering, made in partnership with Beyond Meat, in its restaurants in America and it hopes to bring them across the Atlantic soon. Beyond Fried Chicken is being sold as nuggets, served with sauces including honey BBQ, ranch, honey mustard and KFC sauce, and is available as a 12-piece nugget order or as part of a combo meal with fries and a drink. “The mission from day one was simple — make the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken from plants,” KFC US president Kevin Hochman said. “And now two years later we can say, ‘mission accomplished.’”
So how do the big three fast food chains stack up for their meat-free offerings? Our reporter James Vukmirovic tested all three personally.
Burger King has been one of the more forward-thinking fast food restaurants in terms of looking at meat-free alternatives to its food.
It began offering the Plant-based Whopper in 2020, a flame-grilled, soy-based patty, topped with tomatoes, fresh cut lettuce, vegan mayonnaise, pickles, ketchup and sliced onions on a sesame bun.
Since then, it has added the Halloumi King to the menu and, in the last few weeks, brought out the Vegan Royale, a crispy coated, meat-free ‘chicken’, topped with iceberg lettuce, vegan mayonnaise and a toasted sesame bun.
The new Vegan Nuggets have just launched as well and the fries have been certified by the Vegan Society, meaning a full vegan meal deal can be purchased.
Both a Plant-based Whopper and a Vegan Royale cost £4.99 for the burger, £6.99 for a medium meal with fries and drink and £7.49 for a large meal with fries and drink. Vegan Nuggets cost £3.29 for six nuggets, £3.99 for nine nuggets and £4.99 for 20 nuggets.
I took on the Vegan Royale and also tried out the Vegan Nuggets. The burger looks exactly like a standard Royale, covered by chunky lettuce and mayonnaise and the thin layer of coating on top, when you unwrap the packaging. The first taste brings the same flavours and tastes as a standard Royale and, if I am honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two.
The nuggets were great and, again, are as close to the meat alternative as it’s possible to be.
Plant rating: Taste 8/10, Texture 9/10
The McPlant is the latest step by McDonald’s to move towards a more meat-free menu, having previously introduced the Spicy One veggie wrap and the Veggie Dippers.
It features a patty developed by Beyond Meat and a vegan cheese slice based on pea protein, as well as vegan sauce, vegan sesame bun, mustard, ketchup, onions, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes.
It’s also the only fast food restaurant of the three I visited to offer a vegan-approved beef substitute.
The individual burger costs £3.19, a regular meal with fries and drink costs £4.69 and a large meal with fries and drink costs £5.09, with the fries vegan-friendly due to being fried in a blend of sunflower oil and rapeseed oil and in a separate fryer.
It looks like a standard quarter pounder with cheese in terms of the patty's shape and colour.
It looked close to what the advertisement in the restaurant showed, with crunchy lettuce and a tomato on top of the patty, but without the pickle noted on the screen when ordering it.
It had the similar texture and taste to the type of burger sold in stalls at the beach or in certain burger vans, with a nice tangy taste from the sauce.
This could fool meat-eaters. If you weren’t told it was a meat-free burger with vegan cheese, you frankly wouldn’t know.
The McPlant is tasty and well-presented and healthier too, which is a bonus.
Plant rating: Taste 8/10, Texture 8/10
The vegan options by KFC have been more limited over the years, with the restaurant only producing the Vegan burger a year ago.
It was today launching its plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken – but only in America. That currently leaves us Brits with the Original Recipe Vegan Burger: a Quorn fillet coated in the 11 herbs and spices KFC are famous for, in a sesame bun with fresh lettuce and vegan mayonnaise.
KFC describes it as a vegan burger the Colonel would be proud to put his name to.
The burger on its own is £3.99, while a medium meal with a drink costs £4.49 and a large meal with a drink costs £4.99, although it’s worth pointing out the meal does not come with fries as they are not vegan-friendly. This is due to the fries being cooked in the same oil as some of the chicken fryers.
I have always loved KFC and enjoy a Zinger Tower Burger, so I was very keen to try out the Vegan Burger to see if it has the same taste.
It looked very similar to how it was being presented on screen. It also looked similar to the standard fillet burger, albeit a bit chunkier and rounder around the edges.
The proof is in the eating, so I took a sizeable bite and found the taste to be almost exactly the same as the standard fillet burger.
The burger zinged with the flavour of the 11 herbs and spices too. It was flavourful and very tasty and kept the taste and flavour through to the last bite.
Worth a try, all meat-eaters!