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Denny’s is now offering Beyond Burgers nationwide

Can plant-based meat keep making the jump from trial to national rollout?

A plant-based Beyond Burger. Beyond Meat argues that plant-based burgers can replace meat and be better for the environment and for animals.
Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There’s a rhythm to plant-based meat offerings at fast-food and casual dining restaurants. First, a new company announces a plant-based offering with much fanfare and, often, lines out the door. Then the new food leaves the headlines, the restaurant jealously guards its sales numbers, and it’s hard for outsiders to tell if the launch was a success — that is, until a nationwide expansion is announced.

That’s the pattern we saw with Burger King (initial launch, national launch), Qdoba (initial launch, national launch), Del Taco (first product launch, expanded product line) and Subway (initial launch, national launch).

Now Denny’s is joining them. This fall, the company started offering Beyond Burgers in its Los Angeles locations. Today, it announced that the launch was “overwhelmingly successful” and that it will be offering the burgers at all Denny’s locations nationwide and in Canada, with free Beyond Burgers on January 30 to kick off the expansion.

“The positive response we received validated our decision to partner with Beyond Meat to introduce our guests to a plant-based option,” John Dillon, chief brand officer for Denny’s, said in a press release.

That’s corporate-speak, of course, but it’s corporate-speak for an important fact: Plant-based meat offerings are very well-received when they hit restaurants. Even once the publicity has died out, the products keep selling, making the economics make sense for a nationwide expansion.

Denny’s is a full-service family dining restaurant with locations in 15 countries, including 1,700 in the US and Canada.

Plant-based meat producers can point to a growing list of companies — TGI Friday’s, Dunkin’, Carl’s Jr., KFC, and McDonald’s offer products from Beyond Meat, and competitor Impossible Foods offers its options at Burger King, Little Caesars, and Qdoba among others. These bets, so far, have been paying off.

Plant-based meat might help solve one of our biggest problems

Plant-based meat products aren’t just another tasty menu item. Proponents argue that they’re part of the solution to a major societal problem. All around the world, many people like the taste of meat — and demand for meat products is growing. But conventional meat production can involve severe animal cruelty, promote antibiotic resistance and public health problems, and produce a lot of greenhouse gases.

That, Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown has said, is what drove him to develop an alternative protein. If plant-based meat products taste like conventional meat but are delivered to consumers in a more sustainable, climate-friendly, animal-friendly package, then consumers will get on board.

A few years ago, that concept was met with a lot of skepticism. Most Americans aren’t vegan and have no intentions to change that. So how much market could there be for plant-based meat? But by now, it’s pretty clear that the answer is “a substantial one.” Lots of meat-eating Americans are still concerned about animal suffering and about the environment, and are willing to substitute plant-based burgers that increasingly taste nearly identical to meat ones. Beyond Meat and its competitors have thrived, and the restaurant deals just keep on coming.

Plant-based meat remains a very small share of the food sector, and its dramatic growth last year wasn’t enough to stop meat consumption from growing, too. In the next few years, it will become clear whether plant-based meat is growing into a niche product or into a real replacement for the meat products it imitates.

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