Veggie fast food in, specialists out

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:

MIAMI, LONDON–Burger King will in 2002 begin offering vegan burgers at all U.S. restaurants, the $11.3-billion-a-year
Miami-based fast food restaurant giant announced on December 6. The vegan burgers enjoyed a successful trial run in San Francisco and at Canadian locations, Burger King chief marketing officer Christopher Clouser told Associated Press.

Extending the vegan option to the U.S. is part of the Burger King strategy to regain U.S. market share lost after an August 1997 recall of hamburgers that might have been contiminated with the deadly form of e-coli bacteria. Because Burger King responded promptly to reports of contamination, only 16 people were known to have been poisoned, with no fatalities. But the case did become the biggest meat recall ever, to that point, involving 25 million pounds of product, and brought the collapse of the supplier, Hudson Foods, the remnants of which were acquired by Iowa Beef Processors, Inc.

An even bigger meat recall followed 17 months later, when the Bil Mar Foods division of Sara Lee Corporation recalled 35 million pounds of hot dogs and lunch meat to halt a listeriosis outbreak that caused at least 80 serious illnesses, 15 deaths, and six miscarriages. Sara Lee in June 2001 agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle related federal legal actions.
The Bil Mar case mostly involved meat sold for home consumption, but is believed to have stimulated home consumption of vegan burgers, which in turn increased restaurant consumption.

Several other major U.S.-based fast food chains have already added vegan and vegetarian options to their menus, typically starting abroad. Burger King, for example, has already offered a vegan burger at British locations for several years. Even McDonald’s, the most conspicuous holdout against offering vegetarian options in the U.S., offers vegan entres in India. The biggest McDonald’s concession to vegetarians and vegans in the U.S. so far was an August 2001 pledge to begin acknowledging that French fries advertised since 1990 as having been cooked in pure vegetable oil are also steamed in beef fat. This came about as result of a class action lawsuit filed against McDonald’s in May 2001 by Seattle attorney Harish Bharti, on behalf of all U.S. vegetarians and Hindus who were misled.

In Britain, competition from the fast food giants helped to bring the scheduled end-of-January closure of all but one outlet of the first vegetarian restaurant chain, Cranks. Founded in 1961 from a fashionable site on Carnaby Street, London, the Cranks chain grew to five sites, and was scheduled to expand to 20 more after it was bought by Capricorn International in 1998. Capricorn International, also operating the Nando’s fried chicken chain, invested $2.4 million in improvements to the existing Cranks sites before deciding to close all four London outlets. The last restaurant, in Dartington, Devon, was sold to Nando’s Grocery Ltd. “We are going back to our roots to try to rebuild a stronger brand,” said Nando’s Grocery managing director Phil Lynas.

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