Call it the VeganRush. As meat-free – or meat-lite – diets take over the world one soybean at a time, Big Fast Food is, finally and not unsurprisingly, muscling in on the action. Because whoppers don’t generate enough whopping profits already, the industrial food machine is now competing for the takeaway habits of the growing 1.16 per cent of the UK population (up from 0.25 per cent in 2014) dedicated to plant-based consumption.
This time last year Greggs caused a High Street-quake, and a Piers Morgan meltdown – both good things, of course – with their vegan sausage roll. Twelve months on they’re rolling out their vegan steak bake. Now it’s the turn of the US-based multinationals to grab a slice of the flesh-free pie. Anyone for KFC’s finger lickin’ vegan burger, McDonald’s vegetable dippers, Subway’s meat-free meatball marinara or Pizza Hut’s vegan pepperoni pizza?
But the latest brand to plant their flag in Veganuary is Burger King. The chain has just introduced its newest menu addition. The Rebel Whopper is a plant-based spin on the original beef Whopper, fleshed out with much marketing muscle. Like the OG Whopper, the climate-friendly newcomer comes encased in a seeded bun filled with lettuce, mayo, tomato, onions and pickles – all with that “flame-grilled to perfection” promise. The Rebel, though, contains a sustainably-sourced soya patty made in partnership with Dutch alt-butcher The Vegetarian Butcher.
Originally called the Impossible Whopper in America thanks to its plant-based supplier Impossible Foods, BK’s vegan burger was introduced to every US Burger King branch last August. According to The Guardian, the Rebel came buoyed by a “glowing review” from none other than a meat lobbyist. The Impossible did, well, the seemingly impossible.
As the burger’s “meat” supplier changed in Europe, so did its name. The Rebel was rolled out in 2400 European restaurants last November, but the UK’s vegetarians have had to wait until now for their own, um, “Bexit” (Beef Exit).
But here’s something to burst your enviro-bubble: the burger isn’t suitable for vegans. So exacting was the effort to include vegan mayonnaise, and to cook the patty on a grill separate from its beefy brothers, the UK’s 600,000 vegans are missing out on a chance to pretend they’re eating a proper Whopper. Let down.
Nonetheless, Burger King’s UK marketing director Katie Evans was bullish, declaring: “We’re delighted to satisfy the demand for this highly-anticipated product and finally bring the Rebel to the UK.” And for sure that demand is there. A hefty 29 per cent of Brits now claim to have reduced their meat consumption, and meat-free product sales soared by 20 per cent last year. It’s this herd of flexitarians – those who choose to eat less meat while enjoying a naughty nugget once in a while – that’s the Rebel’s target here.
More importantly, HOW DOES IT TASTE? Well, it’s chunky in weight and wrapped in a bright white and turquoise paper, and there’s certainly a meaty bite to the Rebel. The patty is thick, firm and has a convincingly – vegetarians, turn away now – cow-like taste. But on the sample we try, the sloppy lettuce drenched in (non-vegan) mayonnaise and the swarm of tomato seeds causes a slightly soggy bun.
One note of caution, though: as The Independent reported “the company admits that its new Whopper is cooked on Burger King’s ‘signature broiler’, where its beef burgers are also cooked.” For vegetarians unfazed by this, you’re good to go.
All that said: it’s worth mentioning that while BK has missed the mark not going the full vegan stretch, if it turns a decent number of meat-lover’s heads, that’s undoubtedly a win in its own right. Because if 2019 taught us anything, it’s that mass meat consumption is pretty fucking bad for the planet.
So here’s to greasy fast food chains taking the sustainable route – sort of. Let’s just hope that by next Veganuary they’ve gone the whole hog.