MCA explores how the explosion of plant-based burger offerings from the likes of Neat Burger, Halo Burger, Oowee Vegan and Flower Burger are disrupting the QSR market

The steady rise of plant-based eating over the past decade has been paralleled by the equally steady ascent of plant-based burgers. With patties made of chickpeas, lab-grown meat and everything in between, burgers are no longer the meatiest option on the menu.

Honest Burgers launched an entirely plant-based spin-off brand last year. Nando’s kicked off Veganuary by introducing a spiced chickpea burger. Burger King trialled an entirely plant-based restaurant in Leicester Square and announced a target to make 50% of its menu plant-based.

Joining the bigger players are smaller specialist operators like Neat Burger, Halo Burger, Oowee Vegan, Flower Burger, and the Vurger Co, most of which were conceptualised as plant-based concepts from the beginning.

Oowee

Oowee vegan

Oowee vegan

With plant-based concepts all seeking to disrupt the QSR burger market and convert the carnivorous, the only point of differentiation is how they’re going about it.

For Oowee Vegan, the idea was to replicate the meatiness and indulgence of a traditional burger in vegan form.

Beginning life as a diner concept serving meat, it is the now four-strong Oowee Vegan which proved the bigger hit and is the focus for growth.

The concept hasn’t strayed far from its original “deliciously dirty” branding to show meat-eaters that plant-based eating can be indulgent as well.

“We never hide the fact we have Oowee Diner,” says co-owner Verity Foss. “All our marketing goes into Oowee Vegan, but it wouldn’t have existed if we didn’t have Oowee Diner in the first place.”

Foss doesn’t believe a meat offering takes away from Oowee Vegan’s plant-based credentials. She says the vegan brand is committed to building its customer base and defining its identity rather than rapid expansion.

“We really try to replicate dirty burgers in vegan form…a lot of brands are growing their meat restaurants alongside their vegan restaurants,” she says.

Foss thinks reduction in meat consumption is more accessible than elimination.

“We don’t want to be seen as hypocritical, but we want to say if everyone cuts back and eats less meat, that will reduce the carbon footprint.”

For Oowee, the target customer base is meant to be as broad as possible.

“We’re not trying to market to vegans, we’re trying to market to everyone,” Foss adds. “It’s just good food that happens to be vegan.”

Flower Burger

Flower-Burger

Flower Burger similarly aims to change the perception of veganism to something that can be fun. With burger buns in every shade of the rainbow and retro-inspired branding, the concept looks to make vegan food colourful, vibrant, and Instagrammable.

Plant-based brands are unlikely to attract meat-eaters if the offering looks unappetising, or “a bit sad,” as founder Matteo Toto describes the market when he first established Flower Burger.

The pandemic reduced communication between people. Brexit also divided us, and now the war,” Toto says. “We try to deliver positivity and joy to our customers, especially right now.”

With 14 sites in Italy and one in London, the chain is gearing up to open 45 restaurants in the next 15 years.

“What we’re trying to show people is that nature is giving us all the ingredients we need,” he adds.

Avoiding meat substitutes, Flower’s patties are made of chickpeas, lentils, and mushroom.

As it gears up to embark on its expansion strategy, Toto acknowledges the offering could hinder the brand’s growth.

“We don’t sell fake meat or an imitation of what’s from an animal,” he says. “Maybe it’ll take us more time [to expand].”

Neat Burger 

Neat Burger

Similarly vibrant and instagrammable is Neat Burger, which has attracted A-list investor-brand ambassadors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Lewis Hamilton.

Eschewing the ‘dirty vegan’ approach, Neat has distanced itself from the perception of burgers as meaty and unhealthy, emphasising the nutritional benefits of its patty, composed of ingredients with fibre, protein, and healthy fats.

With backing from SoftBank, the brand is positioned for expansion similarly to QSR/fast-casual burger brand like Five Guys and Shake Shack, through franchising, drive thrus and delivery kitchens.

Speaking to MCA last year, co-founder Stasi Nychas said: “We are a disruptive brand. Investors can see the growth of the brand and they can see the demand from consumers in the plant-based space. We are look forward to becoming the market leaders in the UK plant-based space.”

Halo Burger 

Halo Burger

Another disruptive brand with a tech angle is Halo Burger, founded by former Tesla manager Ross Forder. With veganism a founding principle for its brand identity, Halo’s ultimae goal is to encourage carnivores to eat less meat.

“Coming back to ethical principles, it is about how we encourage meat eaters to try our burgers and maybe try more plant-based foods?” founder Ross Forder tells MCA.

“We have to think about how we create an accessible brand, that carnivores feel comfortable approaching, that’s really important.

“If it’s not an approachable brand, they’re going to say, ‘it’s just one of those vegan brands, that’s not my thing.’”

In contrast to Flower Burger, Forder sees meat substitutes such as the Beyond Burger a crucial tool in his appeal to stubborn meat-eaters.

Mimicking the red and white QSR diner style, Halo takes an indulgent approach to burgers, with a sustainable end goal.

“Ultimately, the whole point in setting Halo up was to have the maximum impact on sustainability. We want to be a chain across the UK, we want to be international eventually as well,” he told MCA.