From a corporate communications standpoint, it was apparently like manna -- with a few slabs of roast beef in between -- from heaven. A line in a story in The Information last week suggested that Arby’s was among the many chains interested in Impossible Foods’ meat alternatives.
VegNews Anna Starostinetskaya picked up on the irony a week later.
“Under its motto ‘We have the meats,’ Arby’s has long focused on creating meat-forward menu items and several of its marketing campaigns were created to poke fun at vegetarians. However, as demand for meat-free foods grows, competing chains have begun to embrace plant-based options,” she wrote, citing the information in The Information.
Fortune’s Laura Stampler takes the story from there.
“When Arby’s president Rob Lynch looked at his newsfeed Wednesday morning, he saw a headline that made him wonder if he was having a meat-sweats-inducing nightmare.”
It was the piece in VegNews.
“‘Please, please, please say it isn’t so!’ he quickly queried colleagues, who reassured their boss no one was exploring plant-based options,” Stampler writes.
“The next step: the fast food chain’s PR team barraged journalists with Arby’s no-meatless-at-Arby’s gospel.”
“Lynch said Arby’s embracing the meatless craze would muddy the restaurant’s all-about-the-meat image, which has been fundamental to its financial upswing,” Stampler adds.
“‘You have to stand for something,’ Lynch said, with animal-byproduct patriotism. ‘We’ve turned this brand around by making big, high quality, meaty, abundant sandwiches. That’s who we are.’”
Food & Wine’s Mike Pomranz also got a nudge from a flack at Arby’s, along with the statement: “Contrary to reports this week, Arby’s is not one of the restaurant companies interested in working with Impossible Foods. The chances we will bring plant-based menu items to our restaurants, now or in the future, are absolutely impossible.”
“Frankly, it’s a bit of an odd move for Arby’s -- in part because they didn’t need to comment,” Pomranz observes. “Someone claiming you are ‘looking' to do something isn’t as definitively inaccurate as saying you actually did something. But it’s also a bit odd that Arby’s would snuff out the idea of plant-based options entirely because the brand has shown a willingness to forge ahead with unexpected products before. Yes, they’ve always been meats, but Arby’s rolled out venison nationwide and served duck and elk sandwiches. This isn’t a company that’s shied away from new and unexpected items.”
Holly Van Hare, the editor of The Daily Meal, writes that “this may be the only time in restaurant history that a chain has gone out of its way to completely disavow a vegetarian option -- though if anyone would do it, it’s Arby’s. Though there are ways to order meatless from their meat-heavy menu, Arby’s has historically had some beef with vegetarians. They once released a marketing campaign specifically to poke fun at them, launching a ‘vegetarian support help line’ 1-855-MEAT-HLP for vegetarians to call when they found themselves craving Arby’s meat. But this time, their snub to anything plant-based doesn’t seem to be just a marketing stunt.”
Hmmmm. Avi Dan’s April Forbes profile of Arby’s Lynch, the P&G and Taco Bell veteran who joined the company as CMO in 2014 and was recently named president, contains a telling paragraph.
“The success of ‘We Have The Meats’ can be attributed as much to the ironic tone of the advertising, not taking itself too seriously. It paid off with tons of free publicity when Daily Show host Jon Stewart made the chain the butt of many jokes over the years, and Arby’s played along.”
The article in VegNews also mentioned Subway, Dunkin’, Wendy’s and Papa John’s as also being interested in Impossible Foods offerings.
“But among that group, Dunkin’ so far is the only company to publicly express plans to explore adding meatless proteins to its menu. Subway sells a vegan patty sub in the United Kingdom, while Wendy’s tested a black bean burger a few years ago, but the product died and never went national,” points out Joey Morona for cleveland.com.
“For now, Cleveland-area fast-food diners can find Impossible meat at Qboba and Wahlburgers. Burger King plans to sell Impossible Whoppers by the end of the year. Little Caesars is also testing an Impossible Supreme Pizza, which could eventually come here if all goes well,” Morona adds.
That’s not a lot a of options for Cleveland vegetarians, alas, but as Marketing Daily’s Karlene Lukovitz reports this morning, sales of plant-based meat alternatives are growing at a much higher rate that those for traditional meat products.