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Tim Hortons Customers Didn't Warm Up to Plant-Based Meat

By Rich Duprey – Feb 3, 2020 at 11:38AM

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Menus change.

Restaurant Brands International (QSR 2.53%) may be losing its appetite for plant-based meat, recently confirming it had pulled the last of Beyond Meat's (BYND 9.50%) faux-meat products from its Tim Hortons chain.

Only months after rolling out the faux-meat breakfast sausage and then burger patties to the coffee shop's 4,000 restaurants, it pulled the items from all of its restaurants except those in British Columbia and Ontario in September, and now says it's yanking them from those locations as well. 

According to a company statement, a Tim Hortons spokesperson said the pea-protein sausage was "not embraced by our guests as we thought it would be. We may offer plant-based alternatives again in the future, but we have removed it from the menu for now.”

Considering Restaurant Brands is also discounting the price of its Impossible Whopper at its Burger King chain, and the burger joint's biggest franchisee, Carrols Restaurant Group (NASDAQ: TAST), just reported earnings indicating demand for the beef alternative was declining, the company may not have the stomach much longer for keeping these items on the menu in any of its establishments.

Pan of Beyond Meat sausages

Image source: Beyond Meat.

Confronting the herd of competition

Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are staking their future on getting into as many restaurants as possible. The former saw sales to restaurants and food service operators quadruple in the third quarter, and though retail  accounted for about 55% of Beyond Meat's sales in the quarter, the restaurant segment will soon surpass it if sales keep growing as they are.

Yet both segments may soon come under pressure. In addition to the ebb and flow of being added to and removed from different restaurant menus, the plant-based meat alternative is now seeing increased competition.

Kroger is introducing its own brand of plant-based meats, and some of the world's largest consumer products companies, including ConAgra, Hormel, Kellogg, Nestle, and Tyson Foods, are entering the market as well.

All of these companies are substantially larger than Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods and have much greater financial resources to market their products. While taste is important, and both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have earned accolades for their meat-like taste and texture, which help persuade those who aren't vegetarian or vegan to buy the product, pricing will be important, too, and these conglomerates have the ability to make their products very competitive.

Putting a premium on price

Beyond Meat finally turned profitable in the third quarter last year, recording net income of $4.1 million, but if it has to start competing on price against these industry giants, that could quickly turn its profits back into losses.

That's why Burger King's cutting the price of the Impossible Whopper by adding it to its two-for-$6 value menu could be concerning. If customers are hesitant at paying up for a faux-meat burger, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods will have trouble maintaining their premium pricing.

There are also concerns as to whether Beyond Meat will be able to scale up enough to meet the restaurant industry's demand, something that shouldn't be a problem for the likes of Hormel, Nestle, or Tyson. 

It's why some analysts thought it notable that McDonald's earlier this year only slightly expanded the test of Beyond Meat's burgers in Canada rather than rolling it out further. While it could just be that the Canadian market is more difficult to service, as retailers often struggle to maintain a national presence in the far-flung reaches of the north, it also indicates the problems much smaller outfits will face up there.

A smaller slice of the pie

Of course, not every product will be a hit, and customers could just be rejecting what was on the menu at Tim Hortons. Beyond Meat has other protein alternatives available and is testing out a chicken offering at KFC. 

Certainly as more consumers become conscious of how their food is sourced, a broader market for these products will develop, but there's also likely a finite number of people who will give up real beef and chicken and switch to plant-based alternatives. And even as customers are given more options from new competitors entering the market, we'll undoubtedly see Burger King, McDonald's, and other restaurant operators shuffling their vendors around more frequently, so the faux-meat maker you see on the menu today may not be the one that's there tomorrow.

Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nestle. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Restaurant Brands International Inc. Stock Quote
Restaurant Brands International Inc.
$55.48 (2.53%) $1.37
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Beyond Meat
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