A Georgia man who is vegan has sued Burger King for false advertising alleging the burger chain “duped” customers into eating Impossible Whoppers by not adequately disclosing that the plant-based patties are cooked with beef fat. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status.
According to the complaint filed in a federal court in Florida on Monday, Phillip Williams of Georgia said he visited an Atlanta Burger King in August and ordered an Impossible Whopper which, when prepared without mayonnaise, he believed conformed to his “strict vegan diet.” Williams was unaware that Impossible Whoppers are by default “cooked on the same grills as its traditional meat-based products, creating a meat-free patty that is in fact covered in meat by-product,” the lawsuit alleges.
It was unclear how Williams became aware of how Impossible Whoppers are prepared. Burger King advertises the plant-based burgers as “100% Whopper, 0% Beef,” and notes on its website for the product that the burger is made with mayonnaise — a non-vegan product that contains eggs. In smaller print below the description, the company says guests who want a “meat-free option” can request their Impossible Patties not be prepared on the broiler where beef and chicken products are cooked.
Williams alleged that the Burger King where he purchased his meal had no signs indicating that Impossible Whopper patties were cooked on the same grill as meat items on the menu or that asking for a non-broiler cooking method was an option. The lawsuit notes there have been “numerous consumer complaints posted online” from customers similarly angry and surprised by the discovery their meatless patty is cooked in beef or chicken fat.
The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial, compensatory damages and, among other things, an injunction to stop Burger King from preparing Impossible patties on its regular broiler.
Verónica Nur Valdés, a spokesperson for Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
When Burger King rolled out the Impossible Whopper in August, some vegan consumers took notice of the fact Burger King executives confirmed Impossible patties would be cooked on the same broiler as chicken and beef unless a customer asked otherwise. The company has never labeled the product as vegan in its advertising.
“We use the same cooking method,” Chris Finazzo, Burger King’s president in the Americas, told Bloomberg in August. “This product tastes exactly like a Whopper. We wouldn’t want to lend our name to just anything. It looks like beef, smells like beef, has the same texture as beef.”
Roughly 90% of diners who ordered the Impossible Whopper during the burger’s trial run are meat eaters, Burger King’s parent company, RBI Inc., told Bloomberg.
Matt Ball, a spokesman for The Good Food Institute, which promotes the production of plant-based meat alternatives, said that while vegans might welcome the inclusion of animal-free options in popular restaurants, they’re not really the target audience for products like the Impossible Whopper.
“The goal isn’t to provide vegans with a product. It’s not like Burger King is advertising this as ‘hey vegans, here’s your burger,’” Ball told The Washington Post. “It’s targeted toward flexitarians, people who are looking toward eating less red meat. That’s why they prepare it so it prepares the same culinary experience as someone who eats Whoppers.”
Companies like Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, both of which produce plant-based meat substitutes, are motivated by the environmental impacts of producing meat, Ball said. Ball said companies with a broad customer base are not likely to try to appeal to vegan consumers as vegans make up an estimated one percent of the U.S. population — and that “vegan” as a descriptor does not have particularly positive associations in the eyes of consumers; it fares even worse than descriptors like “diet” or “sugar free,” Ball said.