Famed Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park recently made headlines around its plans for reopening, as chef Daniel Humm announced that when they do reopen after the pandemic, their menu will be completely plant-based.
A restaurant that is often referred to as one of the best restaurants in the world — one that is famed for creating dishes including the likes of sea urchin tongue and seared foie gras — has completely reinvented itself as a pioneer for sophisticated veganism, and the move saw significant attention on the internet. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the move.
The rise of veganism has been a long time coming, and now with both social and environmental concerns over meat consumption, companies are adapting to the changing times. Eleven Madison Park is just one example, but national brands like Starbucks, Baskin Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts are all expanding their menus to be more accessible to the ever growing vegan and vegetarian communities.
We recently looked back at the top meat alternative brands for 2020, but there is more to being plant based than just a lack of meat. With various options to reduce animal consumption, let’s take a look at some of the most engaged topics surrounding plant-based items this year.
The below chart shows the top articles mentioning the term “plant-based” in 2021 so far.
The hype for plant-based products has been steadily rising all year. In the top 10 stories about plant-based products in 2021, three included major brands such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King bringing in vegan options to their menu.
The most engaged story was about Taco Bell bringing back potatoes and unveiling a Beyond Meat option, with 194.8k engagements. Following closely behind was an article by The Guardian with 135.4k engagements that stressed the significance of a plant-based diet to help save global wildlife.
Both The Hill and The Washington Examiner published stories on Bill Gates, who believes rich nations would help the global fight against climate change by consuming only plant-based meat products instead of beef. Environmentally, animal consumption is one of the main factors of climate change. Gates knows it’s a stretch, but thinks synthetic meat is a feasible reality in the future.
Many major brands have committed themselves to offering plant-based options as an alternative for their consumers. We expanded our search to look at some of the most engaged with brands who are at the forefront of this change.
Starbucks and plant-based options
Starbucks made headlines this year as they have begun to roll out more vegan-friendly options at all of their locations.
The top story involving Starbucks was a callout from actress Alicia Silverstone because of their vegan milk surcharge, with 21.9k engagements. Starbucks charges $0.50 for milk alternatives, prompting the actress to speak out. “These charges penalize customers who are making humane and environmentally friendly choices,” Silverstone said. “It also penalizes people for issues they can’t control, like being lactose intolerant—which affects 65 percent of the population, predominantly people of color.”
Another actor, Alan Cumming, also made the top 10 for his criticism of the extra vegan charge. Similar to Silverstone, Cumming stated, “More than a year ago, Starbucks acknowledged that cow’s milk is the company’s biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions, yet it continues to penalize customers for making green and humane choices by charging them extra for vegan milk.”
Other top articles focused on a new, completely vegan protein box, vegan breakfast sandwiches featuring Beyond Meat, and earning rewards for free vegan drinks in honor of Earth Month.
VegNews, a website devoted to “all things vegan,” dominated the top stories with six articles for a total of 66.6k engagements. The Beet, another vegan website, also fared well with 11.3k engagements on their article about Starbucks proposed “dominant shift” towards plant-based items.
Similar to Starbucks, Baskin-Robbins has taken initiative by introducing both a vegan “Mangolada” and an oat milk ice cream, making it the first major chain to do so.
VegNews saw 18.2k engagements on their breaking story about the new ice cream, which was followed in the ranking by Delish’s article about the new Mangolada smoothie, garnering 9k engagements.
Almost the entire top 10 chart of stories about Baskin Robbins revolves around the new oat milk ice cream they revealed. As a company that used to offer sorbets as their non-dairy options, Baskin Robbins has adjusted their menu over the last few years to include more diverse, vegan flavors. They began in 2019 by introducing two flavors made with a base of coconut oil and almond butter, and then pulled the trigger on a vegan smoothie a few weeks before debuting the oat milk ice cream.
It’s important to note that Baskin Robbins is a part of parent company Dunkin’ Brands, which also operates Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts has also taken it upon themselves to add oat milk to their repertoire, and have launched vegan donuts overseas in Europe, with hopes of bringing them to the United States ASAP.
Oat milk shortages
Though the craze for these alternatives has had a positive impact on the environment, the demand has made it quite difficult to keep these options in stores.
Only one month after introducing oat milk to their menu, Starbucks is struggling to keep the popular option in their stock. Starbucks understood the desire for these options, as CEO Kevin Johnson stated, “Probably the most dominant shift in consumer behavior is this whole shift to plant-based, which is why we’ve introduced all the alternative milks, whether it’s almond milk, soy milk [or] oat milk.”
The problem though, isn’t Starbucks, rather their supplier Oatly. Oatly has exploded in popularity, especially after this summer when an Oprah-backed investment group helped them begin the process of going public. The company is struggling with pandemic-related facility delays, and has no timeline of when they’ll be able to fully restock Starbucks nationwide.
This story was almost exclusively engaged with on Veg News, and didn’t pick up much traction in the mainstream media. This illustrates that these types of setbacks are more important to those who actually participate in this lifestyle, not those who do so just to follow the trends. Until a plant-based way of life becomes the norm, it’s unlikely to see inconveniences like these broadcasted to the wider population.
As consumers continue to adapt to a plant-based lifestyle, companies will be forced to adjust to their wants. It will be interesting to see how far companies are willing to go to appease the market of this new movement.
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