Tim Hortons has pulled all Beyond Meat plant-based products from its restaurants less than a year after the national rollout, saying that its customers seemed to prefer the “meat option” in their sandwiches.
Under parent Restaurant Brands International Inc., Tim Hortons introduced breakfast sandwiches featuring a plant-based sausage patty in May of last year at nearly 4,000 locations, and then followed up with Beyond Meat burgers in July.
In September, the products were scaled back to Ontario and B.C. only, with the company saying that after some initial excitement, sales slowed as customers seemed to prefer the regular meat products.
“Ultimately, our guests choose to stay with the meat option in their breakfast sandwiches,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.
“We may offer plant-based alternatives again. But we have removed [them] from the menu for now.”
A Beyond Meat spokeswoman did not respond to emailed questions, but sent a one-line statement.
“We partnered with Tim Hortons on a limited time offer. We are always open to collaborating with our partners and may work with them again in the future,” Emily Glickman wrote in an email.
During a call in October, Restaurant Brands CEO Jose Cil said the Beyond Meat partnership was a limited-time trial that ran its course.
“We saw some initial excitement around the product. But … when that window ran out we decided it was best to take it off the menu and maybe consider other alternatives down the road.”
During the same call, however, he noted that the plant-based Impossible Whopper had propelled RBI property Burger King to its best comparable sales increase in four years.
The fit with Tim Hortons never made a lot of sense, according to one industry watcher.
“It was strange and it got a lot of people to scratch their heads,” said Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University. “Proteins are not their game. They’re not equipped to do that.
“There were some issues related to quality,” he added. “I think head office was pushing it down to franchises and they didn’t have the [grilling] infrastructure, which is why they used a microwave. That affected the quality of the product and customers noticed.”
For El Segundo, Calif.-based Beyond Meat, whose shares fell 3.9 per cent to $115.40 (U.S.) in early trading Wednesday, the retrenchment at Tim Hortons represents a rare setback after inking a string of partnerships with restaurants and grocers on growing consumer demands for more environmentally sustainable products.
It’s a trend that has boosted Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the biggest players in the alternative protein segment, helping Beyond Meat shares rise more than fourfold since the company went public last year.
Beyond Meat did get a vote of confidence Wednesday from KFC, which said it will start testing Beyond Meat plant-based fried chicken in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, next month.
As well, Beyond Meat recently announced an accelerated national rollout of its partnership with coffee and doughnuts chain Dunkin’ Donuts and has expanded its partnership with Subway in Canada to begin serving meatball subs nationwide.
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A&W became the first national restaurant chain to serve Beyond Meat patties in July 2018. Initial demand outstripped supply and the fast-food chain temporarily ran out of stock.
The burger chain has since added a plant-based nugget to its menu for a few weeks, and CEO Susan Senecal has said demand for the veggie burgers has “stayed remarkably stable” since the launch.
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