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They’re lovin’ it: Uncovering vegan fast food trends

They're lovin' it: vegan fast food survey insights

When it comes to undertaking market research to understand consumer sentiment about a particular trend, conducting a survey is the most efficient information-gathering method. However, unless you have the right tools to derive survey insights, you won’t make use of this valuable data.

In fast-evolving sectors, failure to act on your market research because it was too difficult to conduct survey analysis will cost you. One such sector is the vegan food market, which has changed massively over the past decade. There’s no greater indication of the rise of plant-based movement than fast food chains getting in on the act. This is unsurprising, given that the sector is predicted to be worth $162bn by 2030.

But what do people think about fast food vendors’ vegan offerings? What are the most popular vegan fast food trends? Are plant-based burgers the future, or simply a flash in the pan?

To find out, we conducted a snap survey of Americans who have eaten vegan fast food at either McDonald’s, Burger King or KFC. The survey sought to discover not only which brand or burger was their favorite, but why.

The best way to analyze survey data – and get real customer insights – is through collecting open-ended responses. Our five-question survey included three open-ends; asking participants why they preferred a certain chain, to describe the taste and texture of the burgers they loved, and to tell us what vegan fast food options they’d like brands to introduce.

Upon completion, we uploaded the data to our survey analysis tool. Relative Insight uses comparison to find differences and uncover insights in any type of text data. This makes it the ideal platform for analyzing open-ended survey questions. We ran comparisons across different segments, including age groups, diet types and preferred fast food vendors. Here are just some of the fascinating vegan fast food trends for you to chew over.

When it came to comparing the words used by people with distinct diets, it’s unsurprising that vegans and meat eaters were most different.

For meat eaters and flexitarians, the lure of going to eat vegan fast food was all about trying something different and having a experience. Our survey analysis found that they were 10.4x more likely to use words like ‘try’ and ‘tried’ when discussing vegan fast food.

Burger King is the only place where I’ve tried the plant based burgers.

It has to be the impossible whopper! It might be one of the few I tried, but I highly recommend it to others.

Meat eaters’ suggestions for other vegan fast foods continued on this theme. They were infinitely more likely to suggest meals involving ‘lettuce’ and ‘lettuce wraps’ meaning that this didn’t appear in vegan respondents’ answers at all. It’s interesting to see that in this instance, those on a plant-based diet don’t mention plants whilst the carnivores crave them. So perhaps in order to create a wider appeal of vegan options, chains should start wrapping their burgers in lettuce rather than buns?

I’d like to see lettuce wrapped things.”

In contrast, vegans very much stuck to the food they knew. They were 5.7x more likely to use frequency-based words like ‘often’, and they were 6.7x more likely to specifically use the word ‘always’. Given the relative newness of plant-based meat, out survey analysis tool highlighted that their go-to vegan fast food were the good old french fry.

Fries because fries have always been my favourite.”

Fries because I can get them anywhere and they can be made various ways. They can always be different, unlike burgers.”

Again, vegan fast food trends towards favorite meals meant that vegans were less likely to suggest new vegan fast food options in their answers. However, when they did come up with ideas, these tended to be around meat and dairy equivalents rather than vegetables, and we found the word ‘steak’, appearing infinitely more in vegans’ responses.

I’d like to try vegan steak and vegan pork chop.

Cheese steak

Generating survey insights from gen Z

As well as segmenting the data by diet type, we also ran comparisons based on age. When examining the data in our survey analysis tool, the most intriguing insights came from gen Z respondents when compared to what millennials and gen X said.

One key difference was the discussion about how plant-based products meant no harm to animals. Gen Z respondents were 4.8x more likely to use animal-related words such as ‘birds’, ‘animals’ and ‘cows’, which highlights that their reasons for eating vegan food is related to animal welfare, rather than health or for political or sustainability reasons.

“The Impossible Whopper because it literally tastes like meat and u know ur not hurting an animal – good for vegans.

I would like to see more plant based chicken in restaurants, because so many birds are harmed because of the high demand of this one meat.

Our survey analysis also found that gen Z have trust issues with fast food vendors. They were infinitely more likely to use words relating to ‘confidence’ (and their lack of) in these brands, and were also infinitely more likely to use the word ‘trust’.

Salads because I know I can trust them the most coming from a fast food place.

Fast food is unhealthy anyways. I wouldn’t trust a fast food chain with non meat options.

Who won the taste test?

…Burger King. 55% of respondents said they preferred the chain’s vegan food over McDonald’s (31%) and KFC (14%). However, while this quantitative data tells you what people prefer, it doesn’t tell you why they prefer it, which is why it’s so important to include some juicy open-ended questions.

What did our qualitative analysis show? That the Impossible Whopper is the burger that attracts people to BK, regardless of whether they are vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater, and respondents who voted for the chain were 10.8x more likely to use the word ‘delicious’. Its messaging around the burger being ‘plant-based’ has also resonated with participants, as they were 5.7x more likely to reference this for Burger King.

Burger King has a plant based burger that’s delicious.

Burger King has the impossible whopper and I like the plant based meats and everything that comes with a whopper.

Survey insights highlighting the success of the Impossible Burger

Conversely, the reason that other respondents eschewed the Whopper and chose McDonald’s or KFC seems to be that both their vegan strategies are based around variety, not one “hero” product. Participants voting for these two vendors were 9.4x more likely to use the word ‘variety’ and used the word ‘options’ 1.1% more frequently.

I think that Mcdonald’s has a variety of vegan foods, their salads are very good.

I think KFC provides a good variety of vegan options chicken, salads, baked beans, corn green beans.

McDonald's and KFC customers like vegan fast food variety
Survey analysis highlights the use of the word 'options' when disucssing KFC and McDonald's vegan food

While numbers-based analysis reveals basic insights, like how many people prefer something, you can only get a true understanding of what you’ve uncovered through analyzing open-ended text data.

In our survey analysis example, vegan fast food brands have learned that encouraging meat eaters to ‘try’ their food and offering them lettuce-wrapped foods is a winning strategy, while highlighting a lack of cruelty to animals will resonate with gen Z consumers. Plus, while Burger King is currently winning the vegan food contest, its lack of variety could be its undoing if McDonald’s or KFC produce a product to rival the Impossible Whopper.

The vegan fast food trends our tool has surfaced are based on a relatively small snap survey – the true power of Relative Insight is making sense of vast quantities of open-ended survey data from thousands, even millions, of respondents.

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