For most people, the word fast food means nothing but unhealthy, super greasy fare. Fast food is saved for long car rides where you have no other options and let’s be honest, it might taste great (thanks to the magic salt to fat ratio), but we all know how bad it is for our health – not to mention, it’s really not the best bet for the planet either. But the world of fast food as we know it is changing.
In the past few years, healthy, plant-based, fast-casual restaurants have been on the rise. Sales at healthy fast casual chains totaled about $39 million in 2014, up almost 30 percent from 2013 and sales in the fast-casual segment are expected to swell to $62 billion in 2019. This increased interest in healthy, plant-based foods is being driven by the fact that people are choosing to leave meat and dairy off the menu more frequently. As awareness surrounding the negative health impact of consuming meat and dairy continues to rise, consumers are taking a stand for their personal well-being. They are also concerned about animal welfare and the environmental impact of their food choices. Thanks to all these factors, plant-based restaurant chains like Veggie Grill, an all-vegan chain that features primarily whole foods and fresh vegetables in their dishes, have seen an enormous amount of success. In fact, the main consumer base for Veggie Grill does not identify as vegetarian or vegan, speaking to the growing trend of plant-based eating.
Thanks to the popularity of Veggie Grill, this West Coast chain has received a new $22 million infusion of capital from investors. According to Steve Heeley, Veggie Grill’s CEO, the funding is earmarked for growth to help the 28-unit chain double in size within three years. That’s right – Veggie Grill has plans to expand into the Midwest and East Coast!
While Heeley tells Nation’s Restaurant News that they are still evaluating markets for their new stores (they’re also looking to make size of their stores more compact to be able to get into more urban centers), the mass appeal of Veggie Grill remains apparent. Heeley shares they’re getting requests from non-conventional places to set up shop, specifically airports and college campuses. “We’re getting universities approaching us,” said Heeley. “The demand for veggie-based food is really accelerating, so they’re getting feedback from students and faculty that they want not just healthy concepts but more specifically veggie-based food.” This just further speaks to the fact that no matter where they might be, consumers want better options. Period.
Frankly, people are tired of having to sacrifice quality and health when they eat on the go, and let’s be honest, many of us eat most meals on the go these days. Veggie Grill is perfectly poised to dominate the rising health, fast-casual dining space and we can predict that they will hardly be alone in this. We have seen chains like Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and White Castle incorporate more vegan options into their menus and as consumers learn more about how beneficial plant-based eating is, this trend is only set to increase.
“As Americans learn more about how food is directly tied to our health and well-being, as well as the health of the planet, they are seeking better options, namely less meat, and more plant-based foods,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet. “This explains the rise of meatless and dairy-free options in grocery stores, the proliferation of veggie options in fast food chains, as well as a growing interest in clean, plant-based sources of protein and vegan cooking. The demand is there across the country and now restaurant chains like Veggie Grill are finally here to meet it.”
Veggie Grill has grown exponentially since they launched in 2006 and as consumers continue to show interest, investors will continue to see the enormous opportunity in vegan food. We don’t think it is too far off to say that vegan fast food is the future. For the sake of health, animal well-being, and the future of the planet, we certainly hope so.
Lead image source: Veggie Grill