Franchise Trends

Franchise Trends

Why your restaurant brand should add plant-based items to the menu.

By Heather Ripley, Knighthouse Media contributor

It’s everywhere, right? Vegan this, plant-based that. If you remember, just a few years ago, gluten-free was the catch-phrase. And since then, gluten-free options are offered in pretty much every restaurant and fast-food franchise. Whether it is a choice or a medical necessity, going gluten-free has become a national pastime. 

Gluten-free products and brands are available in pretty much every grocery store, sometimes in a special section, and more recently, integrated with other products on the shelf. Brands have taken on the challenge with packaging, announcing “GF” in big letters or “Gluten Free” across the front. It’s mainstream. 

Take notice, because the terms “vegan” and “plant-based” are gaining enormous momentum. Why? There are several significant reasons, and here are a few:

Vegan and Plant-Based Terms are in The News – Gluten free has become the norm, and although vegan has been around for a very long time, it’s just now becoming headline news. The new McVegan plant-based burger sold by McDonald’s in Sweden and Finland was a huge story recently. If you Google McVegan, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results. It’s becoming a phenomenon.

More U.S. Residents Claim to be Vegan – According to a 2017 report, there was a 600 percent increase in consumers claiming to be vegan from 2014 to 2017. It’s only going to get bigger.

Meat Substitutes are Making Big Gains – A report by Allied Market Research predicts that meat substitutes will generate a global revenue of approximately $5.2 billion by the year 2020. Is your franchise ready to be a part of this billion-dollar industry within the next two years?

Global Attitudes about Animals as Food Are Changing – Consumers around the planet are starting to change their attitudes about using animals as food. While not all who choose a plant-based diet are against others eating animal meat, attitudes are definitely changing. A study by Sentience Group showed that 47 percent of Americans agreed that factory farm slaughterhouses should be banned. Another 54 percent said they were trying to cut down on eating animal-based foods.

Major Brands Are Already Adopting Veganism – Aside from McDonald’s, other major franchises like TGI Fridays, White Castle and Denny’s offer veggie-burger options. Many more offer vegan choices either from a separate menu or by tweaking existing menu choices to be vegan-friendly.

And while some major restaurant and fast-food franchise brands are incorporating plant-based items into their existing menus, some up-and-coming franchise brands offer an exclusively vegan menu. One of those brands is Cinnaholic, a gourmet cinnamon roll franchise that was featured on Shark Tank and is now a fast-growing brand. Co-founder Shannon Michelle Radke had loved animals since childhood but became a vegan after watching PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” documentary.  Her passion for baking using animal-free ingredients hit a nerve with both consumers and potential franchisees.

Franchise owner Holly Roe says, for her, the choice to go with Cinnaholic was easy. “We love that Cinnaholic is changing the way people think about being vegan by providing delicious foods that you would never know are plant-based,” Roe says. “Most people who try them without knowing they are vegan are absolutely shocked when we tell them. We are grateful to be a part of a company that is helping people realize that plant-based does not equal flavorless food. Plant-based at Cinnaholic equals ethical, healthier and absolutely delicious.”

The vegan marketplace is not just about meat and meat substitutes, however. The milk industry is seeing a major decline in cow’s milk consumption as plant-based milk products are seeing a huge increase in business. According to, the market for dairy alternative products such as almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk and other dairy-free goods is expected to surpass $24 billion by 2026. That’s up from $9.8 billion in 2017.

As more restaurant and fast-food franchises adopt vegan and plant-based menus items, the more they will appear in Google searches. Vegan and animal-friendly websites are quick to add links to businesses they feel are joining their movement and every link helps fuel searches to other compatible businesses. In turn, consumers who prefer to patronize like-minded businesses will refer their friends and family. 

This is not just a trend. Our thinking about where our food comes from is changing at an unprecedented rate. I hope more restaurant franchise brands everywhere will take notice, and if you do one thing this year, put some real effort into investigating – and then investing in – at least one vegan option for your business. 

Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a public relations agency specializing in franchise, and Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR Inc. that specializes in environmentally-conscious, plant-based and animal-friendly organizations and businesses. 


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