First there was the plant-based Rebel Whopper. Now our brand, The Vegetarian Butcher and Burger King have joined forces to create the plant-based chicken nugget.

As with last year’s Rebel Whopper, Burger King’s new nuggets have been launched in response to the growing appetite for plant-based options, and are aimed at the increasing number of consumers who identify themselves as part-time vegetarians or flexitarians.

Flexitarians: a growing planet-conscious consumer group

Research in the UK has shown that one in three meat eaters (34%) followed a flexitarian diet in 2018, up from 28% in 2017, while nearly 1 in 4 Americans (23%) reported eating less meat in the past year according to a recent Gallup poll.

Motivated primarily by health and environmental concerns flexitarians are looking to cut down, rather than cut out, animal-based protein from their diets – ideally without losing out on the taste experience.

“What these consumers want is plant-based options that do not compromise on taste and texture,” says Hugo Verkuil, CEO of The Vegetarian Butcher. “They want the same experience as they had with the meat-based original, without feeling any guilt about its impact on their health or on the planet.”

Designed for meat-lovers, made with plants

Which is where The Vegetarian Butcher comes in. Made from soy and wheat, all the company’s protein sources are plant based and gastronomically satisfying.

In fact, their ground-breaking products, including meat-free sausages, burgers, bacon and even tuna, are so closely aligned with their animal-based originals that many chefs and culinary journalists have found if difficult, or even impossible, to distinguish them from the real thing.

Soy-based and covered in a deep-fried batter, the new Burger King plant-based nuggets, for example, mimic their ever-popular chicken counterparts on all levels. They are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and come with a trio of dipping sauces in ketchup, BBQ and sweet and sour flavours.

“The nuggets offer a delicious plant-based alternative for all meat eaters who want to reduce their meat consumption,” says Hugo.

Facilitating change through fast food

But if taste is important to the growing ranks of flexitarians open to converting to plant-based food, so is accessibility.

As Robbert de Vreede, Unilever’s Executive Vice President of Global Foods, said in a recent webinar hosted by Thought for Food, if we want people to eat less meat, then the plant-based alternatives they are offered have to be accessible, available, tasty and fun. Once plant-based options are as easy to obtain and as good to eat as their meat-based counterparts, then changing people’s eating habits becomes easier, he suggests.

What’s in a name?

Food that looks and tastes like meat but is better for health and planet – it sounds almost too good to be true. However, the growing accessibility of meat-mimicking products, such as those of The Vegetarian Butcher, is facing a new concern… most notably in terms of what these products should be called.

Can a food really be a sausage, a meatball or, indeed, a nugget if it contains no meat? Could consumers get confused about whether they are buying meat or not when it is difficult to taste the difference between a sausage made of soy and one made of pork?

Some European law-makers suggest this could be the case and are requesting that meat denominations should not be used for plant-based foods. An important vote will take place in the European Parliament later this month on this topic, while similar discussions are taking place in several EU countries in parallel.  

Unilever, alongside NGOs and other like-minded companies, has joined the debate to make the case for an environment which enables consumers to choose plant-based products, in line with Unilever’s ambition to change the food system.   

“We want meat lovers to experience that they don’t have to miss out on anything when opting for vegetarian versions. The correct naming helps consumers to understand what kind of product they are getting. Let us help them make the choice for more plant-based food easy,” says Jaap Korteweg, founder of The Vegetarian Butcher.

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