Plant-based meat – foods made from plants but designed to replicate the taste, texture and appearance of animal products – have been having a moment. Late last year, KFC joined Beyond Meat to offer Beyond Fried Chicken, which sold out in hours. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods released its Impossible Burger in national chains including Burger King. Both companies are doing their part to make meat-free options more mainstream, in fast-food restaurants and on grocery store shelves across the country. To understand the appeal, CivicScience asked more than 4,800 U.S. adults about their opinions and experiences with plant-based meat.

CivicScience first looked at what U.S. adults actually believe about these meat substitutes. The largest subset of believers is the 21% who said plant-based meats are better for both their health and the environment. People who are not aware of health and environment pros and cons, as well as the non-believers in health and environmental pros, made up more than half of the respondents.

The focus on health is worth exploring further, especially given reports from sources saying a plant-based burger isn’t necessarily healthier than the real deal. CivicScience found that those who said they were very healthy were the most informed on the potential pros and cons but also the most likely to state plant-based meat were not better for their health or the environment. At the same time, those who said they were very unhealthy had the largest grouping of respondents who said plant-based meat is better for health and the environment.

To Impossible, and Beyond

The Impossible Burger is slightly more fans than its Beyond Meat counterpart. CivicScience data show favorability of the Impossible Burger at 25% among those who have tried it, while favorability for the Beyond Meat Burger is at 22% among those who have tried it.

Of course, approval is just the first step. Interest in purchasing takes the topic one step further. And diners are most likely to try plant-based meats at fast-food restaurants and fast-casual restaurants. U.S. adults were least interested in trying a plant-based meat at a fine-dining establishment.

Given that fast-food restaurants are known for being less inclusive of vegetarians and vegans, it is not surprising that these groups are the most interested in trying a plant-based meat during a fast-food dining experience. However, what is worth noting is the strong appeal amongst less-vegetable-focused eaters. Fifty-five percent of those who occasionally eat meat and 29% of those who are not vegetarian or vegan are at least somewhat likely to give plant-based meat a try. 

Plant-based meats could enhance the appeal of fast-food chains, as individuals who prefer organic food – and who may not be the anticipated fast-food customer – are the most likely to give this meat alternative a try. 

Cold Feet at the Grocery Store 

Despite the interest in trying plant-based meat at fast-food restaurants, respondents are less interested in purchasing these items from the grocery store. Interest in purchasing these during a trip to the store hovers around 14% for both items. This could indicate that consumers are are wary of trying to prepare these meat substitutes at home.

The most popular places to try a meat alternative are fast-food restaurants – arguably the most accessible dining experience. Almost a third of non-vegetarians are likely to give plant-based meats a try at these locations, with rates much higher amongst those who do follow a plant-based diet. 

Where there is room for growth is in the grocery store where consumers don’t appear to be as enthusiastic. However, with such a strong showing in the fast-food sector, both brands – and the plant-based meat trend in general – appear to be off to a good start. With such broad interest and appeal, plant-based meats at fast-food restaurants could be one of the most egalitarian food trends of the new year.