Editorial: Lessons Learned from an All-Vegan Drive-Through

Last week, I read an article about a new fast-food restaurant in California – a former Burger King restaurant in Encinitas, California, that was taken over by another company. It continued to serve burgers, fries and shakes via the drive-thru window and inside seating, but this one is decidedly different: the menu items are all vegan.

Founders Jeffrey Harris, Zach Vouga and Mitch Wallis started Plant Power Fast Food to “combat the impact that the consumption of animal products has had on the health of millions of Americans by providing a plant-based fast-food alternative,” an article on Forbes.com said.

Keep in mind, this was a commentary, not a news article, but you had to search for that information. The article was written by Katrina Fox, founder of Vegan Business Media, which provides “content, events and training platform resources to vegan business owners,” according to her online bio. The article was labeled as written by a contributor, which means opinions expressed are those of the author (albeit in very small type). It wasn’t until I clicked on her name that I saw her obvious bias toward vegan food.

But I digress.

The founders’ goal is “to inspire people to begin to ask themselves some important questions about where our food comes from and perhaps to begin to think differently about their choices. But we’re not doing it in a way that’s preachy or confrontational.”

Plant Power Fast Food meal
Here's a sample meal at Plant Power Fast Food in San Diego Co.

And therein lies the difference between this vegan approach and most others you’ll find. It focuses more on the positive of what you’ll find rather than the negative of other (conventional) food choices. It tells you what type of restaurant it is, what kind of food is offered, and clearly outlines how much you’ll pay (which is quite a lot compared to other available alternatives).

From the pictures at the Plant Power Fast Food website, the restaurant is bright, clean and modern. The reviews on Yelp were positive, but mostly from vegans who thought the food was better than other vegan fast food they had tried. That’s a fairly small demographic. I tried to find nutritional information, but it’s not required for restaurant chains with less than 20 locations.

As well as containing no animal ingredients, the comfort food dishes offered at Plant Power Fast Food are also free from cholesterol, GMOs, artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives, “thereby appealing to people who want healthier fast-food options.”

I’m not sure the disclaimer makes food options at PPFF automatically healthier, but that is the premise.

The point is, animal agriculture can learn from these vegan establishments. There is no need to apologize or become defensive when sharing information about animal products. And there’s no need to criticize the alternatives either.

Animal agriculture should play to its many strengths, while recognizing consumers’ tastes are changing. Those changes create opportunities to market meat products differently.

We also need to listen to what proponents of the vegan lifestyle have to say, and ask them questions about their food choices, as opposed to writing them off as uninformed, uneducated followers. Get to know them and keep the communication door open. I'm going to try and I hope you will, too.

A recent ad for Subway promoted its “no antibiotics” theme. I would love to see an ad from the National Pork Board, or the Cattlemen, or the Animal Agriculture Alliance, plainly stating, “No meat has antibiotics” and “Meat is one of the best sources of available protein in the world.”

The meat industry needs to remember that while we hear about animal activists, growth in the vegan community, and venture capitalists throwing money at alternative-meat companies, the vast majority of Americans want taste and value. The real thing (maybe another good marketing term?) – meat – is the hands-down winner.

Let’s pay attention to what restaurants offering alternatives are doing, and take a lesson or two from their marketing book.