The roast beef sandwich specialist might be the largest chain to disavow plant-based options.

By Mike Pomranz
May 23, 2019
SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Since 2014, Arby’s slogan has been “We Have the Meats.” And just in case you were wondering, the sandwich chain has made it clear that means real meats only. In a decision to buck one of the biggest trends in fast food, Arby’s has released an official statement saying it will never serve plant-based meat.

For the record, the announcement wasn’t completely unprovoked. A representative for Arby’s pointed me towards an article posted earlier this week on the “ultimate source for all-things vegan,” VegNews, titled “Arby’s Looks to Add Plant-Based Impossible Meat to Menu.” That story cites tech site The Information which writes that, as part of a presentation targeting investors during the fake meat company’s recent $300 million funding round, Impossible Foods included Arby’s among a group of chains it claims had reached out to them. The Information also states that “Arby’s didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.”

However, when Arby’s itself became the headline, comment time had arrived. “Contrary to reports this week, Arby’s is not one of the restaurant companies interested in working with Impossible Foods,” Arby’s stated. “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. 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.

That said, as reported by outlets like Adweek and Fortune, Arby’s “We Have the Meats” campaign has been credited with sparking a major turnaround for the brand. It’s easy to see why they wouldn’t want to undermine that message and, instead, decided to use this as a chance to double-down on something that’s been working. At the same time though, all these new plant-based fast food options aren’t just publicity stunts: It’s driven by real consumer desire. Unnecessarily coming down against plant-based meat might solidify Arby’s diehards but there’s a risk it could turn other customers off.

Regardless, just because Arby’s says “absolutely impossible” now doesn’t mean they couldn’t have a change of heart down the line: Media statements aren’t legally binding. And at the very least, by taking the contrarian angle today, Arby’s got themselves a headline by being one of the first major fast food chains to say it would never serve plant-based meat. Though one wonders how much more or less publicity the chain would get if it did roll out some sort of “Impossible roast beef.” In a cheeky way, saying "absolutely impossible" almost seems to leave that door open.

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