The Rebel Whopper

Why Burger King’s Targeting Of Mainstream Consumers, Rather Than Plant-Based Converts, Will Change How We Eat

Burger King have launched their new Rebel Whopper, a product aimed at flexitarians and those who are looking to reduce their meat consumption. It has had some backlash based on the fact that the product is cooked on the same griddle as its meat patties and that the mayonnaise is not vegan friendly.

Burger King has been accused of jumping on the bandwagon and ‘purpose wash’ but we see this as a great move for the brand, customers and the planet.

They have launched a new product that is not preaching to the plant-based choir, it is aimed squarely at people who are thinking about reducing their meat intake but don’t want to compromise on the flavour or quality of their favourite products. It is an innovation based on an established and fundamental brand benefit – the great ‘flame grilled’ flavour of Burger King burgers. The negative response to the seemingly counter-intuitive idea that this is a non-vegetarian friendly plant-based burger will actually build on the message around an unwillingness to compromise on flavour.

This is aimed at a consumer group brands don’t usually talk to: the product, by its own admission, is not aimed at vegans; it’s aimed at meat-reducers; and there are few products specifically going after this ‘middle market’; we should be lauding Burger King for speaking directly to this group when so many other brands are just going straight for the vegan consumer. Any mass behaviour change - i.e. changing the way society eats - is going to be staged and messy, and Burger King are acknowledging that reality and speaking to people who are still figuring out their own dietary rules.

This is a critical concept for people to get their heads around if we are to encourage behaviour change and make sustainability more accessible to more people. The Rebel Whopper is a gateway product, a way of demonstrating that even the biggest fast food giants have something to offer consumers when it comes to making positive dietary choices, without making a compromise. And this is relevant across all categories. To illicit the greatest uptake, sustainability can’t come as a compromise. It can’t be a ‘worse’ choice for consumers, even if the choice is better for the world.

The real risk for Burger King is less that the product isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans and more that they don’t have the basics sorted in their current business model. McDonald’s have been far more transparent in their sourcing, their commitment to British beef – ensuring welfare standards and reducing the air miles of the supply chain. Burger King’s lack of a position on these important factors undermines this launch and makes the brand more vulnerable to attack from critics.

If we simply look at this through the lens of behaviour change, it is very exciting. This is a gateway product and Burger King has a huge opportunity to help to change behaviour amongst it’s millions of customers. It will be interesting to see how the product is marketed and positioned. If the brand makes the pricing accessible, the positioning accessible (as good as a Whopper,) despite the risk that this will cannibalise a core product, this could be revolutionary for the chain and the beginning of a journey towards a more sustainable, and equally popular, suite of products. The percentage of people who will opt for a fully vegan diet will always be dwarfed by the percentage of people who want to make some easy everyday choices to live a bit better. And it’s those kind of simple switches that we need to do more of because they can deliver huge impact when they happen at scale. In the 20’s, brands making it easy for a mainstream consumer to do that will win.

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