Vegan Food Chain Veggie Grill Expands Nationwide
Steve Heeley, CEO of fast and healthy restaurant chain Veggie Grill, bets his burgers are as good, if not better, than McDonald’s Big Macs.
There is a big difference between the two: the first is 100% vegan. Veggie Grill’s burgers are made with pea protein, while its “chicken” sandwich contains soy, pea, and wheat protein.
“Today’s consumer is more aware and aware that eating a diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts is better for you,” said Heeley – who, as you might expect, is vegan – told Business Insider.
Launched in 2006, Veggie Grill serves quick, casual meals that are lower in calories than traditional fast food dishes. Its menu includes items like tempura green beans and “fish” tacos, with prices ranging from $ 3.50 to $ 11.50.
The chain currently has 28 locations, all located in California, Washington and Oregon. But after a $ 22 million investor bump, Veggie Grill is prepare for national expansion. By 2020, it plans to double in size.
Heeley, who was previously the COO of national chains Baja Fresh and Au Bon Pain, sees the Veggie Grill as a fast food restaurant rather than a fast food restaurant (workers come periodically to refill drinks and customers eat in real plates). But its popularity is testament to a larger shift in consumer preferences towards healthier, meatless options. And the brand is seizing the opportunity to compete with historic brands like McDonald’s and KFC.
To attract fast food customers, Veggie Grill offers several veggie burger options. On December 14, all locations will start selling the Beyond Burger, a plant-based (meatless) burger made primarily from pea protein, yeast extract, and coconut and sunflower oil.
A long line of investors, including Bill Gates and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has lent his support to Beyond Meat, which seeks to create a burger that tastes exactly like beef. In May, Beyond Meat began selling its hamburger in chilled meat aisles at select whole foods. (For what it’s worth, the Beyond Burger didn’t quite pass for beef in my taste test, but it’s the tastiest veggie burger I’ve ever bought at a grocery store.)
Veggie Grill’s partnership with Beyond Meat makes sense, as both companies aim to convert carnivores.
“If someone wants to eat a burger and fries but move away from fast food and favor vegetarian food, we are a great alternative for them., ” Heeley said.
Persuading Americans to eat less meat is definitely an uphill battle – Americans are always among world’s largest meat eaters per capita., But that could change, since the amount of meat that American consumers eat has been slowly falling. Other salad-centric chains, like Freshii and Sweetgreen, and vegan chains, like Coffee of choice and Ecorazzi, have also been successful in recent years.
If vegan food startups can make plant-based burgers that taste as delicious as real beef (and bring their prices down), they can give McDonald’s a run for its money.