New Study Reveals Subtle Change To Restaurant Menus Could Have Big Impact

When Burger King introduced their first-ever plant-based burger, it was a menu addition welcomed by many customers. Known as the Impossible Whopper, the new burger initially saw a 5% increase in same-store sales growth, CNBC reports. Its popularity, however, has since died down, so much so that Burger King has lowered the price significantly and added it to their 2 for $6 menu.

The reason for this drop in Impossible Whopper sales may have a lot to do with how the chain markets the product. According to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute, people are more receptive to choosing plant-based options when the menus make specific mentions of the environmental impact of meat, and how they as a consumer can make a difference through their food choices (via The Guardian). The Impossible Burger commercials instead focus entirely on the taste of the meat and how it compares to the real thing. But as co-founder of Purpose Disruptors Jonathan Wise shared in WRI's presentation of the study's findings, curiosity to taste something new isn't enough to hold interest, or in Burger King's case, keep customers coming back for more Impossible Whoppers.

Wording goes a long way on a menu

In the multi-stage experiment, WRI researchers surveyed 6,000 people, evaluating whether they would choose the meat or the plant-based option on the menu when shown specific text alongside the item descriptions. The study concluded that calling attention to sustainability through messages such as, "Each of us can make a positive difference for the planet. Swapping just one meat dish for a plant-based one saves greenhouse gas emissions that are equivalent to the energy used to charge your phone for two years," led more participants to opt for the plant-based offering. But when shown no accompanying text aside from the indication that one was plant-based and the other was not, people gravitated towards the meat option instead.

Jonathan Wise explained that this has to do with the fact that there's a relationship between personal identity and plant-based food in mainstream food culture. Something as simple as using the term "vegan" on a menu can come across as "preachy, righteous, [and] aggressive" because it categorizes the dish as something exclusively for vegans. People are much more receptive to adopting sustainable eating habits when those dishes are presented as a menu choice that anyone, not just vegans, can make to benefit the planet. All it takes is a bit of extra text on the menu.