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How successful was the Grill’d burger chain’s ‘Meatless Monday’?

Beef Central, 18/04/2019

 

WHEN a burger chain built on selling beef, lamb and chicken burgers chooses to remove animal protein from its menu for a day and promote vegan burgers instead, it is always going to be a controversial strategy.

The Grill’d burger chain certainly managed to generate some free headlines and social media love from the plant-based eating community on Monday, when it launched a 24-hour meat-free challenge, in order to promote the addition of four new plant based ‘Beyond Beef’ burgers to its menu.

Rather than offering a choice, customers could (ostensibly) only buy burgers with the vegan patties on Monday.

In a statement announcing the move, the Grill’d chain, which has 130 stores nationally, said it has seen a 10 percent increase in orders for its plant-based burgers (but did not clarify how low the base figure was that it calculated that increase on).

Some social media posters applauded the burger chain’s active public embrace of the plant-based/vegan movement, but there were clearly plenty who wanted the chain to know they found the stunt very hard to swallow.

A particular bone of contention was not the fact that Grill’d was offering plant-based burgers, but that it took meat burgers off the menu, removing choice and alienating its core, loyal customers.

Several were also angered by the chain’s “pandering to vegans” just days after vegan activists invaded farms and meat establishments around the country and, through intimidation and harassment, forced the closure of a Gippsland cafe.

“You are pandering to a small minority of cult-like people who attack farms, restaurants etc forcing some out of business. Put a veggie burger or two on your menu, but leave the meat on there 7 days a week,” one wrote.

Questioning why a beef burger chain would so actively promote plant based burgers over real meat, one tweet asked “do you reckon vegan cafes have a steak Saturday?”

Another questioned whether if each Beyond Burger was being transported from the United States (where they are manufactured), how they were better for the environment.

The Grill’d social media team described the Beyond Beef burger as an incredible plant based patty “indistinguishable from beef”.

Taking up the challenge, Beef Central visited two Grill’d outlets in South East Queensland on Monday – one at lunchtime and the other in the early evening – to observe the customer response and sample one of the vegan burgers.  See separate restaurant visit report below.

Respectfully, we would have to disagree with the claim the Beyond Beef burgers are indistinguishable from beef.

As an eating experience, the plant based burgers were enjoyable enough, no question. But were they ‘better’ or even equivalent to a beef burger? We’re beef people obviously, but we would say a definite no. It is hard to imagine how a consumer, independent of those actively pushing a vegan or vegetarian agenda, would come to the conclusion that these particular burgers with the ‘fake bleeding heme’ are identical to a beef burger.

They are an approximation for sure, and we did think the firm, crisp edge to the burgers was similar to a beef patty. But the overall texture, mouth feel and aftertaste falls well short of the satisfying  experience of the real thing.

Visiting two stores out of 130 is hardly a compelling or rigorous survey, but if the customer response at the two stores we visited was representative of what was happening at Grill’d stores around the country on Monday, then it would be hard to describe the marketing gamble as a big success.

Most of the tables were empty, and at least some of the customers who walked in during the 30 or so minutes we were there during the lunch time and dinner sessions walked back when they learned the only burgers they could buy were meat free.

Grill’d would have expected some customer resistance for sure, but it also seemed obvious that vegans or vegetarians weren’t flocking to support the stores en-masse. In fact some social media posts from people with presumably vegan or vegetarian alignments caned Grill’d for not going fully vegan, as some of the burgers sold with meat-free patties still contained bacon and/or cheese.

Grill’d has taken a clear gamble that the media-driven hype around vegan and plant-based eating that has emerged in recent years will be accurately reflected in actual consumer trends, and that where there is hype, there will also be paying consumers ready to embrace meat-free meals and burgers.

The chain’s founder and managing director Simon Crowe has previously announced his business would make 50 percent of its menu plant-based by 2020 – just one year away.

Other burger chains are providing vegan and vegetarian options.  It makes obvious commercial sense to test market demand given the claims now being made about levels of support for vegan and vegetarian food and to provide consumers with that choice. But to do so in a way that isolates and alienates a large portion of the customer base, and to do so by regurgitating vegan slogans that meat is bad for the planet and for human health – would seem to be a risky strategy.

In taking the easy option of jumping aboard the hype of the vegan bandwagon, what Grill’d has missed is an excellent opportunity to educate its customers about the world-leading sustainability and welfare standards of Australian beef production and to help dispel some of the many myths about meat production – as its competitor McDonald’s has proactively done.

Here’s a quick impression of one of our Monday store visits.

Grill’d Oxford St Bulimba store, inner eastern Brisbane, 6pm Monday 15 April:

Located in the heart of Bulimba’s busy Oxford Street shopping and cafe precinct next to Woolworths, the Grill’d Bulimba outlet was hardly pumping on early Monday evening, with between four and seven of the 65 tables in the establishment occupied by diners at different stages during our visit. Granted, it was a Monday night – inevitably the softest night of the week for any mid-tier food service outlet – but it would be hard to suggest that the ‘Meatless Monday’ strategy had attracted patrons.

And that’s despite one of the senior staff spruiking for customers near the front door, offering free samples of the Beyond burger as inducement. Several prospective dining groups who walked in appeared to change their minds about sitting down, after discovering it was ’24 Hour Meat Cheat’ meatless Monday.

When we placed our order, the staffmember behind the till explained that while animal protein had been ‘taken off the menu’ for the day, he somewhat discretely offered us the regular animal protein menu, just in case we changed our minds.

Floor staff were less than enthusiastic when asked how the promotion was going.

Ten minutes after placing our order for a Beyond Simply Grill’d (plant-based) burger, it arrived – well-presented and looking appetising enough (see image above).

What the food scientists behind the Beyond burger have managed to nail is an appetising ‘crust’ on the burger’s edge after grilling. Apparently flecks of solidified coconut oil is the secret.

Nestled in a nice bun with lettuce, red onion, tomato and herbed mayo, the overall taste experience wasn’t bad, at all. But replace the Beyond pattie in the burger with a hot, fried potato scallop, and it would achieved much the same impression.

Sampling the pattie on its own, and apart from its crispy exterior, it distinctly lacked the flavour and particularly, the texture, to stake a claim as a realistic or convincing substitute for a genuine beef pattie.

And at $13.50 or thereabouts, it was hardly a cheap quick-meal option. The Grill’d menu offered to swap any animal protein pattie on the ‘everyday’ list for a Beyond vege-based burger, for an additional $3.

Would I queue-up for a Beyond Burger pattie again? If I was hungry, and there was no meat protein option available, I probably would. But lined up head-to-head against any decent beef or lamb burger pattie, and it’s hard to imagine any typical omnivore going for the vege option, based on taste alone.      

 

 

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Comments

  1. Glenda Gray, 05/05/2019

    Supporting vocal minority militant Vegan groups is a rather silly stunt for a business to undertake. Especially one that has been built via the ongoing support from meat eaters and real burger lovers. Giving people a choice is one thing, but dictating a Vegan only day, is quite another. No more Grill’d for our family.

  2. Marcus, 24/04/2019

    My wife is a non-militant vegan and I think you are misunderstanding how most vegans feel about the beyond beef pattie. My wife and many vegans will not eat something that tastes like meat and find the prospect that it bleeds to be a real turn-off. The beyond beef pattie is aimed at meat eaters (“flexitarians”). Vegans have many other pattie options at chains such as Soul Burger. As for meat eating me, I have tried the beyond pattie and found it quite disappointing and tasteless.

  3. Sue Grant, 22/04/2019

    The best response is to boycott them forever.Get your family,friends,tweeter followers etc to never go there again because of this below the belt punch to farmers struggling to survive in the midst of this filthy drought.Then they can swap the “Meatless Monday” sign for under “Shop to Rent”.

  4. Mark Bryant, 21/04/2019

    Veganism philosophy is poorly researched and promoted by a minority of ideologues who have no connection to the reality of life.

  5. Jacqueline, 19/04/2019

    This burger chain has lost my trade on their meat free days, and forever if they continue to be meat racist.

  6. Gavin Emery, 19/04/2019

    Good bye Grill´d. I have no time for stunts pandering to minorities. Particularly minorities who try to force their views onto me. There are plenty of other options for me to eat out at.

  7. Bilbo, 18/04/2019

    Burgers are beef and have been for a long time. I won’t buy another burger from Grill’d. Our farmers have enough to worry about with the seasonal issues we have in Australia. To have major customers bowing down to minority groups is ridiculous. Why do we have such knee jerk reactions to groups on social media, they are not big enough for change. Have both burgers available for goodness sake.

  8. Paul D. Butler, 18/04/2019

    SUCCESSFUL? There can be no long term success when you choose to purposely compromise the good health of your customers……even one serving of Lab Slime over Great nutrition is a step in the WRONG direction……….

    http://beefheals.com

  9. Jeff, 18/04/2019

    I think the beef supplier should stop supporting this chain and the Angus and Waygu society should tell grill’d that if you don’t want to support beef as a brand you should not use our brand name or buy beef in general. After all it’s the farmers beef that’s helped build there business. How far would they have built up there business without beef. It’s a insult to the beef farmer that works the land to supply a great product to have grill’d dictate to the customer that on a Monday you won’t be buying meat burgers. Won’t find me buying your burgers and I wish there meat suppler would stop supplying them.

  10. Jock Douglas, 18/04/2019

    It’s time to take head on this vegan evangelism and their ‘meatless Mondays’ . Let’s go for ‘meat eater Mondays’. Make a feature of it through the industry and use their publicity to our advantage. Galvanise support; it’s out there. Do this on the back of comparisons of mouth-watering flavour and proven nutrition. Mercilessly and mirthfully send up the vegan doctrine.
    Attack is a very effective method of defence.

  11. Rae Le Serve, 18/04/2019

    You make yourself sound very naïve and simplistic when you are suggesting that vegan slogans are wrongly saying that meat is bad for the planet and our health. In fact both these facts are true, you only have to read reports by the World Health Organisation, a very reputable body, to realise that. I would read up a bit on facts before writing such a poorly researched article.

    There are numerous sources we could point you to demonstrating the lack of evidence supporting many of the claims that meat is bad for the planet and for human health, but here are a couple you may be interested in: Professor Frank Mitloehner, chair of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Livestock Environmental and Performance Partnership, explaining why many of the claims made about livestock methane emissions are based on flawed assumptions and inaccurate data (youtube link here); Opinion: Healthiest diets include meat and dairy, say health professionals (article link here); 8 Ridiculous Myths About Eating Meat (article link here); and FAO sets the record straight – 86pc of livestock feed is inedible by humans
    (article link here)

  12. Mike Teelow, 18/04/2019

    I am old enough to remember when artificial meat was going to take the world by storm back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I think it flopped. We have to remember that these vegans and farm trespassers were rared in front of the TV sets where animals are humanized. Bring back Beep Beep the road runner, Little red riding Hood , The three little pigs and all the nursery Rhymes that educated Kids and dealt with reality.
    What else would you expect from people whom were rared on a diet of animals dressed as humans and acting the same.

  13. Richard Golden, 18/04/2019

    I don’t demand that vegans or vegetarians eat meat nor that a vegan establishment have a red meat only day each week. I had an enjoyable lamb burger at a Grill’d outlet once, but I won’t be going again after this insulting stunt.

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