SA hunger for plant-based food grows

South Africans’ appetite for fast food has grown by 33% since 2019, and quick service restaurants are adapting to the demand for plant-based menu items.

South Africans’ appetite for fast food has grown by 33% since 2019, and quick service restaurants are adapting to the demand for plant-based menu items.

Published Feb 3, 2024


Durban — South Africa’s appetite for fast food is growing steadily and national food chains are adjusting their menus to provide a wider variety for vegans and vegetarians.

Food awareness organisation ProVeg South Africa said fast food consumption had grown by 33.1% since 2019, mainly because of Covid-19 and load shedding.

The organisation has released its 2023 ProVeg South Africa Plant-based Friendly Fast-food Franchise Ranking, which looks at the number and percentage of plant-based offerings at major Quick Service Restaurants [QSRs].

Director Donovan Will said: “The report once again highlights significant opportunities available in the plant-based space within QSRs in South Africa; from new products that still need to be developed and gaps on menus to be filled by existing products, to ways for outlets to attract more customers.”

Will said QSRs were awarded points based on the availability of the number and percentage of plant-based mains, side dishes, desserts as well as menu labelling and presentation.

“QSRs have many opportunities to expand in the plant-based industry based on the quantity and types of plant-based dishes provided, how they appeal to current and potential consumers, and how well these items are presented on their menus.

“These businesses have an excellent platform to showcase plant-based eating in an appealing and accessible way to the average fast-food loving South African, and are uniquely positioned to play an influential role in promoting plant-based eating more broadly.”

According to ProVeg South Africa, vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian eaters make up 10-12 % of the South African fast food market, and national fast-food chains responded swiftly by adapting their menus to provide more plant-based options.

The number of plant-based mains available in 2023 was 54, compared with 45 in 2022. Side dishes went up to 79 from 64, but the number of available desserts decreased from 10 to 8 in 2023.

In 2023 Kauai retained its number one ranking for plant-based offerings from the previous year, followed by Simply Asia, Panarottis, Nando’s, Burger King, Spur, Mugg and Bean, Barcelos, Steers and Galitos in 10th position.

The list was only marginally different from the top ranked plant based menus for 2022, which saw Kauai in the lead followed by Spur, Panarottis, Burger King, Simply Asia, Steers, McDonald’s, Wimpy, Barcelos and Galitos.

ProVeg South Africa said Kauai continued to make a great effort to innovate and maintain plant-based options, with their range of breakfast and main options, as well as their renowned smoothies, which were marked as desserts in the ranking.

“What is interesting about Kauai, relative to other fast food chains, is that they offer health-focused options, making it easy for people who want to eat a healthy whole-food plant-based diet, but still want the convenience offered by fast-food service.”

It also noted that Kauai offered free plant-based milk alternatives (oat and almond) for their drinks, making it easier for consumers to select these as options.

Simply Asia, which jumped up three levels to rank second, was praised for its labelling and menu presentation.

“They have integrated the plant-based options in the overall menu, targeting all consumers, as well as created a separate menu with plant-based options, thus exclusively targeting plant-based consumers as well,” the report noted.

ProVeg South Africa said QSRs could boost their credibility among vegans by using a logo to indicate that the product was plant-based or consider adding a vegan certification, such as V-Label, which was available in South Africa.

Research for the rankings revealed a lack of robust and prominent advertising campaigns for new additions to menus. It said fast food chains should remember that they were also targeting flexitarians and omnivores who could be curious about trying plant-based food as well.

“Perhaps given that vegans and vegetarians make up less than 3% of the South African population, restaurants may believe that the return on investment for advertising may not be fruitful, or drive away omnivorous consumers.

“However the paradigm is shifting and a lack of advertising may be preventing potential customers from trying new options, which may result in low sales and offerings eventually being taken off the menu,” it said.

Independent on Saturday