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Should Burger King be sued for cooking the Impossible Whopper on a meat grill?

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

Phillip Williams, a Georgia resident, is suing Burger King because the meatless Impossible Whopper is cooked on the same grill as meat products, the lawsuit alleges. Therefore, the Impossible Whopper is technically not vegan as it's cooked on the same grill as meat.

Going back a few years, in 2002, Burger King added a 330-calorie Veggie Burger to the menu which used a MorningStar patty. Around that time and according to BK, the VeggieBurger was not positioned to cater to vegans or vegetarians, but as a meatless alternative. Strict vegetarians could ask for the veggie burger to be cooked in a microwave to avoid the veggie burger being exposed to the meat-based grill.

Getting back to this lawsuit, there are at least two schools of thought on how this Impossible Whopper issue should be handled.

From a vegetarian perspective, a veggie burger should not be cooked on the same grill as meat products. That's just common sense. When BK did a proof of concept with the veggie burger, was there any feedback from a vegetarian perspective to not cross-contaminate? The same idea applies to the meatless IW, stay away from the meat grill to ensure it's completely vegetarian or vegan. If you want to capture some of the vegetarian or vegan markets, you need to do due diligence to convey to this food group that indeed it's truly a vegetarian or vegan sandwich.

From the BK's perspective, there's a limited amount of space in quick-serve chains to cook these IW's on a separate grill. If the scale increases, I'm sure this could be revisited. Also, according to BK's website, they alert consumers that all burgers are cooked on the same grills as beef burgers but there's an option to cook it separately in the microwave upon request.

The plaintiff stated he was unaware that the Impossible Whopper was cooked on the same grills where the meat-based products were prepared. I'm struggling to give the plaintiff a pass in this situation. First, if you're a vegan or vegetarian, you typically know that large restaurant chains such as Burger King or McDonald's are primarily a beef-based business. The fact that these restaurants were founded on being burger-centric should be considered by those with special dietary choices. Assuming one is aware of this, why wouldn't a vegetarian ask BK about how their veggie burgers are prepared? If someone takes veganism seriously, why would they just order this burger using the drive-thru without due diligence?

was a vegetarian for nearly 25 years and if this were me, I'd not engage in a suit or class action suit against BK for this alleged breach. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Anyway, why not send the manager a letter about one's experience and CC the CEO? Or post a rating on Yelp so others are aware of this issue. Why a lawsuit after one visit leveraging the drive-thru?

From my experience and personal feedback, vegetarians and vegans don't necessarily have a stellar reputation among those engaged in traditional diets. Often, meat-eaters think these two dietary choices can be quite extreme and strict in their eating habits, and some think vegans can appear to be elitists. Considering the merits of his legal suit, Mr. Williams' doesn't improve necessarily improve the reputation of vegans. I'm hopeful that this suit is ultimately about protecting vegetarians and vegans when considering the IW at Burger King and isn't about wanting to become famous on social media.

There are two large producers of plant-based meat, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat. Both producers are motivated by environmental reasons for producing less meat. Their target market is less vegan (1 percent of the population) and their business plan is to target consumers who are concerned about the environment and essentially want to eat healthier. According to Bloomberg News, 90 percent of customers who have ordered the IW are meat-eaters.

The Impossible Whopper debuted on August 8 and according to Restaurant Bands, Burger King had it's the best quarter in nearly four years, one would think much of this success can be attributed to the IW.

How will this be resolved? Will Mr. Williams be successful in his class-action suit? Does the fact that Mr. Williams learned about the IW through social media advertisements and word of mouth and having no knowledge about how BK prepares the IW come into play? Will it be thrown out of court as BK's website states that the Impossible Whopper is cooked on the same grill as meat? How will BK handle this? If you're a senior leader at Burger King's corporate office, is this negative or perhaps positive publicity? Maybe Burger King will refocus their online and store signage to ensure all vegans are aware of how the IW is prepared to ensure "die-hard vegans" have the option to avoid meat contamination by having it prepared in a microwave.


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