Where’s the Beef? Plant-based Burgers and Brand Strategy

The genius brand strategy behind that famous ad campaign is one that many people will recall. It’s what built the Wendy’s restaurant brand.

However, with Burger King’s upcoming launch of a plant-based burger, “Where’s the Beef?” is a question we might all be asking in the years to come.

As widely reported yesterday, Impossible Foods will soon add Burger King to the 5000 restaurants in the USA that serve its plant-based burger, catapulting a potentially disruptive new technology into the mainstream. In Canada, A&W has been very successful; its Beyond Meat Burger repeatedly sells out. A&W joins over 38000 retail locations across 120 nations that sell the Beyond Meat Burger. I’ve had one and it’s terrific!

The pending disruption has noble roots. If the average North American replaced just one beef burger a week, it would be the equivalent to removing 12 million air polluting cars from the road. In fact, according to Politico, if cows were a nation, they would rank just behind the USA and China in harmful emissions.  It’s also such a simple way for BK to demonstrate leadership in innovation and differentiate its brand. This move provides a newsworthy lift in same store sales with no new equipment or operating procedures and no major supply chain or organizational transformation requirements, just a simple addition to its menu requiring marketing support.

Stay True to Your Brand Strategy

The key to the burger’s success is simple. Ensure the product quality is excellent – the new BK burger is apparently indistinguishable from its beef counterpart. Stay true to your brand strategy – it’s all about taste and the grilling process. If you are confident in its consumer acceptance – invest heavily to drive trial, repeat will follow. I suspect margins are not as good as the beef burger, so driving incrementality will be key.

What I learned at 13 years with Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) is new products will inevitably fail unless they: taste great, reinforce your brand DNA (at KFC if it wasn’t ‘finger lickin good’, i.e. breaded and deep fried, it struggled), deliver great margins, and/or are heavily supported with effective marketing. If enough of these requisites are met, the new product will generate happy restaurant operators.

McDonald’s, Walmart, and General Mills are just a few of the global juggernauts demanding that their suppliers cut their emissions and improve their environmental footprint. Building environmental sustainability, and with it differentiation, into your brand strategy and business plans will be a category ante. But in the near term, it can also offer companies like Burger King significant first mover advantage.

Adapting your business to new, environmentally sustainable products can prove challenging. Those who do it well, do it within their existing brand promise. The brand strategists at Level5 can help your business tackle change, one bite at a time. Contact us.


By Matt Kelly, Managing Partner

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