One of the world’s most prominent fast-food operators – Restaurant Brands International – has tracked a “significant trend” towards plant-based foods since the advent of Covid-19 – and is responding across multiple brands in multiple markets.
“We are testing plant-based options around the world,” the company’s Apac president Rafael Odorizzi told Viable Earth in an exclusive interview.
“In Europe, there’s a clear demand for it and we have a complete portfolio for it. In Asia, we have a few markets where we see demand but it is not yet very strong. So we expect the [demand] to grow more in the future and we are going to follow that demand.”
Canadian-headquartered Restaurant Brands International owns four banners – Burger King, coffee chain Tim Hortons, fried chicken chain Popeyes and US subs specialist Firehouse. The company has about 29,000 restaurants worldwide, around 4200 of those in the Asia-Pacific region.
In Europe, Burger King launched its first alt-meat, plant-based burger at the end of 2020, which has since been complemented by other menu options.
“Now we have a more complete portfolio and it has been very, very successful in that market. So we are testing it around the world.
“Our take on plant-based has been the same as our take on any other topic in the business: we always listen to the consumer and if they want more plant-based, we will offer them more plant-based.”
Read: Burger King Austria makes plant-based burgers the “new normal”.
Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods in the US market to launch a plant-based burger option, but globally it uses different partners. An in-house innovation team ensures plant-based recipes are tested on consumers multiple times and compared with industry benchmarks from rival chains.
Odorizzi says one of Restaurant Brands’ plant-based products in Europe was developed in partnership with a Dutch brand called Vegetarian Butcher which is owned by global FMCG giant Unilever several years ago. In Asia, it has partnered with the Australian brand V2Food.
The plant-based market is changing so fast, he says, that the product it launched in 2020 has nothing to do with the plant-based products it sells now – it’s much better. “So there are always new suppliers – especially in this category – that we work with that we keep an eye on as they try to innovate.”
Read: All plant-based Burger King restaurant opens in Germany.
A broader sustainability focus
Plant-based is but one feature of a broader sustainability push by the multinational company, which has developed a charter it calls Restaurant Brands for Good – based on a 2021 vision that “the delicious, affordable, and convenient meals you love must be sustainable”.
“We take sustainability very seriously,” explains Odorizzi. “During the past few years, Restaurant Brands International has gone under an extensive assessment exercise to understand our carbon footprint and what can we do about it.
“I think one of the things that we learned is, we have to be realistic about what it is possible to do. We do not want to make commitments for the sake of commitments. That’s why we went through this very extensive research, and we came up with Restaurant Brands for Good, which is our framework for how we’re going to tackle sustainability.”
Three main pillars are the foundation of the program. The first of these is food – ensuring food safety for guests, improving nutritional value and transparency, and the quality of its ingredients.
The second pillar is on the planet – issues such as packaging and recycling – and the third is community.
Odorizzi says Restaurant Brands International is working to ensure its packaging is reusable and does not cause environmental harm, and that its ingredients are sourced responsibly and sustainably. Animal welfare is taken into account when sourcing meat and that coffee is harvested in a sustainable manner.
“We’re changing our supply chain for reusable packaging. Of course, it varies by each specific type of menu, but overall what we’re trying to do is to source from recycled sources or reusable sources.”
Trials are underway in Europe serving beverages in containers that can be washed and used again rather than in disposable cups. So, too, of keep cups.
“We’ve tested a few of these initiatives, but we haven’t seen a lot of traction on that. We started testing before Covid, but during Covid, there were increasing concerns with food safety and contamination that decreased the interest in this type of initiative. So we are not seeing as much traction on this even though we keep testing new markets.”
The third pillar is people, where the company works to support the communities within which it operates.
The Firehouse Subs chain gives a percentage of proceeds back to firemen and first response workers; Tim Horton’s has a program to provide aid to farmers in communities where it sources coffee beans.
Such focus, says Odorizzi, aligns with the company’s global approach to developing products and expanding its chains into new countries.
“In every market, the most important point for us is how we become relevant to our guests.”