Vegetarian Phillip Williams says that Burger King’s Impossible Whopper isn’t truly vegan if it’s cooked in “meat by-product.”
A Georgia vegan has sued Burger King for false advertising, claiming the fast food chain cooks its Impossible Whopper burgers with beef fat.
According to The Washington Post, the suit was filed in a Florida federal court on Monday. In it, plaintiff Phillip Williams says he visited an Atlanta-area Burger King in August. Believing that an Impossible Whopper would conform to his “strict vegan diet” when take without mayonnaise, Williams placed an order.
What he didn’t know, says the suit, is that Impossible Whoppers are, by default, “cooked on the same grills as [Burger King’s] traditional meat-based products, creating a meat-free patty that is in fact covered in meat by-product.”
How Williams uncovered the Impossible Whopper’s secret remains unclear. But Washington Post notes that Burger King’s website makes some explicit claims: the plant-based burgers are advertised as “100% Whopper, 0% Beef.” A disclaimer adds that the burger contains mayonnaise made from egg.
Below the burger’s description, small print instructs guests who want an entirely “meat-free option” to request that their Impossible Patties not be prepared on the same broilers as beef and chicken products.
However, Williams alleges that the Burger King he ordered his Impossible Whopper from had no signage indicating that Impossible Patties are or were cooked on the same grill as meat items. Furthermore, Williams says he couldn’t have known that cooking the patties another way was even an option. His lawsuit, which is seeking class action status, notes that there have been “numerous consumer complaints posted online” from other customers who didn’t know how the meatless patties are prepared.
“Had the Plaintiff or other consumers known that the Impossible meat used in Burger King’s Impossible Whopper was contaminated by meat by-product, they would not have purchased the Impossible Whopper,” the suit claims.
But as Thrillist observes, Burger King has never claimed that its burger is either “vegan” or “vegetarian.” Rather, the company has simply insisted that its new whoppers aren’t made with meat.
“We use the same cooking method,” Burger King Americas President Chris Finazzo 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.”
As the W.P. reports, an estimated 90 percent of diners who ordered the Impossible Whopper during its trial run were meat-eaters. And Matt Ball—a spokesperson for the Good Food Institute, an organization which promotes meat alternatives—told the Washington Post that vegans aren’t really the target audience for products like the Impossible Whopper.
“The goal isn’t to provide vegans with a product,” Ball said. “It’s not like Burger King is advertising this as, ‘Hey, vegans, here’s your burger.’ It’s targeted towards flexitarians, people who are looking toward eating less red meat. That’s why they prepare it so it produces the same culinary experience as someone who eats Whoppers.”
Ball adds that few companies with broad customer bases bother making appeals to vegans, who constitute less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Furthermore, “vegan” products tend to carry few positive implications, at least when it comes to expectations of price, taste and value.