Diners—especially millennial ones—are beefing up demand for meat-free burgers. Some 29% of consumers ages 18 to 34 say it’s important that restaurants offer vegan burger options (compared to just 16% of those over 35), according to Technomic data. Operators are catering to that plant-based demand with a flurry of emerging vegan burger chains. Here’s a look at some of those growing concepts.
1. Expanding via Whole Foods partnership
Next Level Burger launched in Bend, Ore., in 2014, offering traditional fast-food fare like indulgently topped burgers, loaded fries and shakes—all made without animal products. Two years later, the chain opened in a 365 by Whole Foods grocery store outside Portland, Ore. Next Level Burger, with a vibrant orange color scheme reminiscent of Whataburger, serves burgers made from tempeh, produce and other ingredients, as well as the Beyond Meat burger.The growing chain, which also serves breakfast, plans to open its first East Coast store at the end of this month inside a 365 by Whole Foods in New York City. The chain currently has five units, three of which are inside Whole Foods markets.
2. Feeding the meat-and-potatoes Midwestern masses
Earth Burger currently has just one unit in San Antonio, Texas, but announced recently that it will open a second operation early this year at the Mall of America near Minneapolis. Earth Burger’s menu extends beyond meatless patties to include “fish” tenders, plant-based barbecue, faux chicken tenders and wraps. In nearby St. Paul, vegan restaurant J. Selby’s had to shut down its first week due to overwhelming demand. Its most-popular menu item, the Big Mac-esque Dirt Secret, is made with two patties from the city’s Herbivorous Butcher plant-based butcher shop and routinely sells out.
3. Catering to omnivores, too
Two-unit Plant Power Fast Food, financed in part by a crowd-funding campaign, says it aims to appeal to omnivores looking to try something new just as much as, if not more than, vegetarians and vegans. In August, the chain opened its second unit—in a former Burger King. The chain plans to expand outside of California and is looking at franchising, according to a report in Forbes.
4. Big dog of the veggie chains
Founded in 2006, Veggie Grill has grown to become one of the biggest players in the vegan fast-casual arena. The West Coast chain, now with 29 locations, plans to open its first Chicago unit in February, with three more Windy City locations slated for the coming year. Veggie Grill serves meat-free burgers (including a quinoa-based version) and faux chicken sandwiches. The chain also features a range of shareable apps, including lettuce wraps and vegan nachos.