Burger King | Interview

"The first milestone was already laid a year ago"

Klaus Schmäing, Marketing Director Burger King Germany.
Burger King
Klaus Schmäing, Marketing Director Burger King Germany.

Burger King is pushing ahead with its focus on alternative proteins. For about four weeks now, almost the entire range of products has also been available as a meat-free alternative in all 750 of the brand's German restaurants. In an interview with foodservice, Klaus Schmäing, Director of Marketing at Burger King Deutschland GmbH, reports on what the biggest challenges of the changeover were, what V-label licensing means to the brand, and what further optimization is necessary.

Burger King now offers almost every product in its range as a vegetarian option - how long did the groundwork take to implement and what were the two biggest challenges in the process?
Klaus Schmäing: We already introduced the Plant-based Whopper, a first burger with a patty from The Vegetarian Butcher, in 2019. Since then, we have been working together continuously to improve the recipe and further plant-based products. The big milestone was the world's first Plant-based Burger King restaurant in Cologne a year ago. There we tested the small plant-based Pattys and the Plant-based Long Chicken - with outstanding success. It has now taken us a year to completely expand the Plant-based range, to make the operational processes - from storage to preparation - feasible in the restaurants throughout Germany and to purchase new equipment, but also to optimize the recipe, e.g. of our vegan mayo. The introduction of Plant-based Long Chicken as a single product was quicker, although with the V-Label licensing from ProVeg Germany we have taken a unique path in the German restaurant industry. We are convinced of this step, even though it resulted in major operational changes. With the V-Label, we offer our guests clear orientation that the products are vegan.

The Vegetarian Butcher, a subsidiary of Unilever Food, played a big role in the implementation. How do we envision it?
Klaus Schmäing: We work closely and in partnership with all our suppliers and focus on the joint development of products. The focus for us is always on taste. This applies all the more to meat alternatives, which many of our meat-loving guests initially view with skepticism. Plant-based products have to convince with a great taste experience. That's why we work together with The Vegetarian Butcher on the recipes and conduct taste tests until we are satisfied with the taste. Then, under real-life conditions, we market test the products in the restaurants. This is an iterative process that never stops, because we are already working on further improvements and new products.

With the USP "Vegetarian," BK should also differentiate itself more strongly from its competitors - when will Burger King be climate-neutral or even Co2-positive?
Klaus Schmäing: The sustainability aspect plays a major role for us with plant-based products, even if we don't emphasize it in our communication. It should be clear to everyone that plant-based proteins offer many advantages over animal-based ones in terms of emissions as well as water and land consumption. That's why we want our plant-based range to be flavorful enough for flexitarians to do without meat without feeling like they're giving it up. In addition, we naturally want to continuously reduce our ecological footprint.

When will we see vegan products in addition to the complete vegetarian range in all 750 German Burger King stores?
Klaus Schmäing: I am very proud that we, as a pioneer in plant-based fast food, have already licensed Plant-based Chicken products as vegan with the V-Label from ProVeg Germany since October 2021. This is a great achievement and, to date, unique in the German restaurant industry. Since we grill both our beef patties and the plant-based alternatives on an open flame, we always point out possible cross-contamination to our guests. However, from our point of view, a purely vegan plant-based range is not absolutely necessary either, because our main target group is the 50 to 60 percent of flexitarians in Germany who want to reduce their meat consumption. They get meat-free options from us at the same price and without compromising on taste. Equally, we also offer those guests who follow a vegan diet a choice of delicious products. And I'm sure that the vegan offering will grow as well.