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IT’S ABOUT TIME: When will Fast Food Inc. make up its mind about plant-based meat?

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It may seem impressive when high-end restaurants go plant-based, but that's not where America takes its dining cues from. Fast food has an almost unique ability to make plant-based meats affordable, accessible and acceptable.

BRIAN COOLEY: Taste, nutrition and cost are key to the growth of plant-based meat — but acceptability is just as important. The X factor in many consumer decisions is: “What’s everyone else doing?” Two recent burger announcements involving Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat show that fast food is waiting for that moment and also driving it.

Jack in the Box is now testing the Impossible Burger, allowing customers to swap that meatless beef patty into any burger the chain offers at a cost of up to $1.50 more. But that option’s only available at participating locations in Phoenix through mid-December.

Most fast-food brands offer plant-based meat via a specific menu item, like Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. Allowing it as a universal option for any burger on Jack in the Box’s menu is an incremental step toward normalization, similar to letting a customer opt for ketchup instead of secret sauce, though with a discrete cost…

The other important announcement is a trial of Beyond Meat at McDonald’s. While that’s a big move since the No. 1 chain is viewed as the eventual arbiter of plant-based meat’s full acceptance, the trial involves just a single menu item at eight locations. The trial McPlant sandwich, with a codeveloped Beyond patty, is the latest in a long line of nonmeat burger tests at McDonald’s locations around the world…

McDonald’s is the 18th largest advertiser in the world, and Jack in the Box has had a massive brand-reinvention over the last 12 years that made it a tastemaker with younger consumers. This sector holds significant sway over what’s normal and accepted in the American diet…

Also important is fast food’s ongoing physical redesigning to make its offerings more pervasive. Restaurants are being recast for mobile ordering; ghost kitchens make fast food to power delivery; and chains are shrinking dining rooms or moving kitchens to the second floor. It’s about access to food the way we want it in an era of recently reset consumer expectations. The trend is as historic to this sector as the electrification of the auto industry or remote delivery of health care.

And just as Walmart infamously flogs its suppliers to reduce costs, Fast Food Inc. will instill a cost-reduction discipline in plant-based meat stronger than might happen under any other yoke. It may seem impressive when high-end restaurants or big-name chefs go plant-based, but that’s not where America takes its dining cues from. Fast food has an almost unique ability to make plant-based meats affordable, accessible and acceptable. SOURCE…

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