Little Caesars will sell meatless pizzas, but they’ll cost more than regular pizzas


The future of fast food is plant-based.

Another fast-food restaurant said it’s pivoting to vegetarian fare. Detroit-based pizza chain Little Caesars, the third largest pizza chain in the U.S. after Domino’s Pizza DPZ, +1.59%  and Pizza YUM, -0.34% is preparing to take a bite out of the meatless market, debuting a plant-based sausage as a topping made by the creators of the Impossible burger.

The meatless sausage will be sold as a topping on the $12 Impossible Supreme Pizza, which also includes mushrooms, green peppers and caramelized onions, the company said Monday. The regular Supreme Pizza with real sausage costs around $10.50. Like Impossible Burger, the vegan sausage is made from the ingredient heme, the molecule that makes food look, taste and bleed like real meat.

The meatless Impossible Supreme Pizza. costs $12. The regular Supreme Pizza with real sausage costs around $10.50.

The pizza is available for a limited time at 58 locations in Yakima, Wash., Ft. Meyers, Fla. and Albuquerque, N.M. The move for Little Caesars — known for selling hearty pies like its bacon, sausage, ham, pepperoni and beef-topped Meat Feast pizza — shows that plant-based, lab-grown meat is becoming more mainstream.

U.S. sales of plant-based meat skyrocketed 42% in the last three years to $888 million, according to Nielsen.

Impossible Foods, a Rosewood City, Calif.-based privately owned company, rivals Beyond Meat BYND, -0.87% which recently had the most successful IPO of 2019, raising at least $240 million at a valuation just shy of $1.5 billion.

“We look at the interest in plant-based meats as long-term, not just the latest trend,” Ed Gleich, chief innovation officer at Little Caesars said in a statement. “Consumers are increasingly requesting plant-based alternatives to meat products.”

Substitutions and customized orders with the Impossible Sausage can also be made at each store’s discretion.

Substitutions and customized orders with the Impossible Sausage can also be made at each store’s discretion, Tina Orozco, a spokeswoman for Little Caesar’s, told MarketWatch. The chain did not say how much more the substitution will cost.

Consumers will have to pay a little more for meatless alternatives at most chains. Last month, Burger King QSR, +0.00%   announced it would sell a meatless Whopper, made with a vegetarian patty by Impossible Foods that tastes and bleeds like real beef, at select locations for about a $1 more than the regular beef patty Whopper. The special blend from Impossible Foods, involves genetically modified yeast that many reviewers say tastes remarkably similar to meat, without the cholesterol.

Meatless fast food generally costs more. Catherine Lamb, a food reviewer at The Spoon, found that it costs an extra $4 to replace a beef patty with an Impossible Burger in some restaurants. But people appear willing to pay more for food products that are labeled “healthy,” according to a recent nutrition survey by Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian.

It costs an extra $4 to replace a beef patty with an Impossible Burger in some restaurants.

A healthy diet should actually have “low amounts” of food that come from animal sources, nutritionists say. In fact, many of the nutrients people rely on from meat for, such as protein, can just as easily come from plants like vegetables, legumes and nuts, such as peanuts.

“Fresh ingredients with not too much fat –– that’s what people want. The market is changing,” New York-based restaurant consultant Jason Kaplan told MarketWatch. Some 22% of consumers now limit their meat and poultry consumption, and 52% increased their fruit intake in the last year.

More fast-food chains are following that advice. The Impossible Slider costs $1.99 at White Castle compared to 91 cents to $1.78 for a meat slider, or $1.13 to $2.21 for a meat slider with cheese. However, White Castle Impossible Sliders are about twice the size of regular meat sliders.

“With the popularity of alternative meats and meat substitutes, it’s a much more appealing approach to people who are health conscious, but also want something that has a strong flavor profile as opposed to the boring veggie burger,” Kaplan said.

There’s money in meatless products: 22% of consumers limit their meat and poultry consumption, one study said.

Adam Eskin, the founder of Dig Inn, a vegetable-focused fast casual restaurant chain with locations in New York and Boston, said it takes expertise to serve vegetables that are just right. Like meatless burgers, Dig Inn salads don’t come cheap: They range in price from about $10 to $12.

Founded in 2011, the New York-based chain’s signature item is called the “marketbowl,” a mix of seasonal vegetables, grains like brown rice and farro, and a choice of proteins like wild Alaskan salmon, chicken meatballs or tofu.

“Scratch cooking vegetables in a fast environment at the volume we operate is very complicated –– we straddle a very thin line, not wanting to be too far ahead and ending up with overcooked broccoli,” Eskin told MarketWatch.

Dig Inn recently received a $15 million investment from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group –– the team behind Shake Shack –– this week that will help with expansion plans. Dig Inn is up against some stiff competition, including salad chains Chop’t, Tender Greens and Just Salad.

Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality group also invested in 2014 in Sweetgreen, the salad chain with founded in 2007. Customers often wait on long lines for its $12 salads. Last year, vegan plant-based chain By Chloe received $31 million in funding for its international expansion.

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