It's a veto-vote eraser with potential to grow.

JPMorgan analysts recently called Beyond Meat “a true disruptor and innovator,” setting a robust $79 price target on the stock market. They added, according to MarketWatch, the company’s “growth opportunity is extraordinary.” Essentially, Beyond Meat needs to capture only a fraction of the plant-base potential to thrive. Analysts model (for a total available market) pegged the plant-based arena as a $100 billion segment in the next 15 years. Analysts at Barclays said the alternative meat market could hit $140 million in the coming decade.

Of course, nobody quite knows. Some, like Goldman Sachs analysts, believe supply issues could stymie the market as companies, like Beyond Meat, try to keep pace with innovation. But there’s no question the whitespace is enormous. Even an offhand remark by McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook Wednesday sent Beyond Meat’s shares on an 11 percent surge. Talking to CNBC reporter Carl Quintanilla, Easterbrook said, “”Absolutely no idea at this stage,” in regards to adding vegan meat alternatives (Quintanilla specifically cited Beyond Meat as a potential partner). “Clearly, anyone who has something they want to get scale to will often look to McDonald’s to be that partner—to help them scale.”

McDonald’s said it’s thinking about meat alternatives but isn’t ready to dive in just yet, like Burger King and White Castle. It shows you, though, how ignitable this market is right now when a comment this light sets off a stock market storm.

Quaker Steak & Lube, a classic 42-unit chain known for its entertainment-driven vibe and revered wings, is the latest brand to join the category. Branden Blackmur, the brand’s director of restaurant marketing, chatted with FSR about adding Beyond Meat to the menu, what it took, and the chain believes guests will respond.

Talk about the inspiration to bring the Beyond Burger to the menu. How did Quaker Steak measure the customer demand?

Demand for healthier, sustainable dining choices has become more significant as millennials and even generation Z have entered the consumer marketplace as trend setters with purchasing power. In order to be competitive in the casual dining segment, we quickly identified the need for a non-meat option. Though we did conduct some consumer research, we didn’t have to look any further than the various consumer engagement and social media platforms to realize the demand existed, and it was real. Our approach, however, is what we feel differentiates Quaker Steak & Lube from other restaurants. We did not simply want an option for consumers with dietary restrictions, we wanted a product that was of the same superior quality, taste and presentation as our premium traditional burgers.  

What are some of the challenges, logistically, of adding the product to the menu? How much easier has this become than in year’s past?

Because the Beyond Meat product cooks so similarly to a normal burger patty, the implementation was fairly seamless. While cook times vary slightly from our steakburger patties, almost all other preparation models are identical. The biggest operational change was simply revising the cooking surface preparations and location on the line to be certain there is no incidental cross-contamination. Before we served a single Beyond Burger, we made sure the integrity of the product was uncompromised in the cooking process so our guests could be one hundred percent confident in their orders.

What has been the reaction from franchisees to the move? How excited are they to get started?

Our franchisees have definitely embraced the new product. Introducing this product has allowed us to attract new, incremental customers. This product opens up the dining consideration set for consumers because people who do not eat meat now have a non-salad option. Groups and larger parties can now all comfortably dine without hesitation. People with restrictive diets or simply dietary preferences have another choice now—and options are exactly what consumers are demanding.

How do you educate customers? Or is the movement so advanced now you don’t really have to?

We educate our customers by educating our staff. Servers and bar tenders have the most guest interaction, so it is imperative that they have all tried the Beyond Burger product and can speak to its taste and quality during any table touch. 

How will servers and store-level employees be trained to talk about the product and perhaps get that first order from a customer on the fence, especially given the product historically has such a high reorder rate?

Our team members all went through electronic training modules and in-store tasting sessions to familiarize themselves with this product. We also provide a variety of marketing assets and resources to all restaurants than help educate our team members about the product, and its many selling points. But, as I mentioned earlier, there is no substitution for actually tasting the product. It is exponentially easier for our team members to sell the product to a guest if they’ve already tasted the product.

What do you believe the reaction will be? What are the sales expectations, broadly speaking?

So far, the reaction has been very positive. We are seeing a two-pronged sales impact. Many customers are actively dining with us because they know we have the product and they already have an affinity for it. And, at the same time, other customers who have never eaten a plant-based product like Beyond Burger are giving it a try and then repeatedly ordering it. This is not just an option for vegetarians and vegans. We are seeing many burger enthusiasts order this product because it’s just so darn good. In terms of sales volume, we are seeing a growing trend in the percentage of burgers ordered with the Beyond Meat product. We predict this number will only increase as more consumers become aware of the product and its availability as an alternative to traditional beef.

Just talk about some of Quaker Steak’s menu changes of late, how do you see the Beyond launch fitting into those customer satisfaction goals, and also the brand’s directive to keep costs low for operators?

As a brand, we are actively looking to expand through franchise sales. And, we know we can only accomplish that by showing potential franchisees that we have a devoted customer base that loves our menu, and a lucrative operational model. Throughout the past year-and-a-half we have meticulously assessed every facet of our business—menu mix, COGS, margin, labor analysis, overhead, operations, service and training, marketing strategy, etc. If anything is not providing value to our guests or providing value to our operators, it is eliminated. Beyond Meat has been an addition that satisfies both criteria.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Health & Nutrition, Menu Innovations, Quaker Steak & Lube