With concerns mounting around public health and a growing awareness of the large role of animal agriculture in the climate crisis, many consumers are turning away from traditional fast-food chains and towards vegan chains like Next Level Burger and Odd Burger. Despite fast-food giants like KFC and McDonald’s offering plant-based menu items, they may not be able to keep up.
Although vegan fast-food chains have been around as niche concepts for some time, competition is steadily growing, with new entrants all over North America. This year, two such competitors, Next Level Burger and Odd Burger, have announced aggressive expansion plans supported by the constant demand for plant-based fast-food.
Next Level Burger
In 2014, when Matthew and Cierra de Gruyter had the idea of starting a plant-based and organic fast-food business, competition was nearly non-existent. The pair opened the first Next Level Burger location in Bend, Oregon to share the benefits of eating organic, plant-based foods with their community, all the while changing what it means to be a fast-food restaurant in America.
Next Level Burger’s plant-based patties can be made with either the Beyond Burger or a house-made vegan beef burger, slices of vegan cheese, tempeh bacon and all the fixings. The menu also features all the other classic aspects of American fast-food, including fries, shakes and kids’ meals, all without the use of animal products.
In 2017, Next Level Burger landed an expansion deal with Whole Foods Market and has since opened locations inside the grocery store in California, Washington, New York and Texas. After weathering the pandemic without closing a single location, the chain is planning on an aggressive national expansion, with the aim of quadrupling its footprint by 2025, or opening 1,000 or more Next Level Burger locations.
Toronto, Ontario-based Odd Burger was one of the world’s first vegan fast-food chains and the first to go public under the ticker symbol “ODD.” Founded by James McInnes in 2014, Odd Burger started out as a grassroots vegan organization that brought organic fruit and vegetables from local farmers to customers’ doorsteps.
McInnes partnered with his wife Vasiliki in 2015 to develop vegan meal kits, through which they learned that people loved their vegan fast-food recipes. In 2016, Odd Burger unveiled its Famous Burger to the London, Ontario Ribfest where it sold out due to overwhelming demand. The following year, the company launched Canada’s first vegan fast-food restaurant.
Now, the company announced that it signed an agreement with Starke Investments, a company specializing in real estate and franchise development, to open 40 new locations in Ontario. Currently, Odd Burger is seeking area representatives in the US market as it prepares to launch its first set of locations outside of Canada.
The success of Next Level Burger and Odd Burger are representative of the shift happening in the fast-food industry and traditional chains know that they must adapt to survive. This year, fast-food giants have already made some major plant-based announcements, including KFC (which now offers Beyond Fried Chicken at its 4,000 locations) and McDonald’s (which expanded its test of the meatless McPlant burger to an additional 600 US locations).
However, adding plant-based menu items may not be enough to keep up with the vegan fast-food market, which was valued at $17 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $40.25 billion by 2028, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.4 percent. The American fast-food landscape is entering a new era that contrasts sharply with the previous one.