If You Ordered an Impossible Whopper You're Probably Not a Vegetarian

A study suggests plant-based burger buyers are typically beef eaters.

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Plant-based burgers might be the trendiest fast food item between two buns, but though sales of these new options are surging, they aren't necessarily coming at the expense of traditional beef burgers, according to a new report.

Sales of plant-based burgers at fast food restaurants were up 10 percent in the year ending May 2019 compared to the previous year, according to The NPD Group: That's 228 million meat-free burgers sold in the past year in all. However, 6.4 billion beef burgers were sold over that same period — so only about three percent of their combined sales came on the plant-based side. Even more intriguing is that beef burger sales are steady from where they were a year ago, meaning that meatless burger don't appear to be putting a dent in beef sales. "The strong year-over-year growth of plant-based burgers is primarily due to increased availability," NPD writes.

Furthermore, NPD's data also found that the vast majority of people eating plant-based burgers at fast food joints were meat eaters as well. The average fast food beef burger customer bought about 18 beef burgers in the past year, but that same average customer also ate plant-based burgers twice over the same period. (NPD suggested these people were giving them a "try.") "Another way to look at it is that 95 percent of plant-based buyers have made a beef burger purchase within the past year," NPD wrote.

Interestingly enough, similar to how current sales of plant-based burgers aren't quite big enough to put a dent in beef burger sales, NPD points out that, at just single digits of the population, vegetarians and vegans aren't quite large enough groups to be major contributors to the sales of plant-based burgers either. For the time being at least, chains need beef eaters to buy them to keep driving sales. "Plant-based burgers allow consumers to substitute without sacrifice. They get the 'burger' experience while assuaging their need for more protein and social concerns," Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, explained. "With that said, U.S. consumers have not given up on beef burgers but are willing to mix things up every now and then."

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