Burger wars: Finland’s fast food fight to go green

More Finnish chains are adding vegan options to their menus, in response to customer demand and for climate change concerns.

File picture of cheeseburger / Credit: Hesburger FB

As the race to become Finland’s number one fast food chain heats up, outlets are also finding value in adding vegetarian or vegan options to their menus. It’s more than just a nod to sustainability, it’s a conscious decision to respond to consumer demand and go green.

Hesburger is expanding. Last year the domestic fast food chain opened 33 new restaurants and increased sales by 7%. In 2019 they’ll grow again.

“We’re planning to open 30 restaurants this year, of which about half are abroad. So, at the end of this year, there are about 500 Hesburger restaurants in the world” says Jari Vuoti, Executive Vice President of Hesburger.

Burger King is expanding too. Despite being a late entrant to the Finnish market just a couple of years ago, there’s now 54 Burger King outlets across the country, with a new one just announced this week for Turku’s Skanssi shopping centre.

One thing all the fast food chains have in common is an ever-changing menu. While burger specials may come and go, there’s been a trend recently to shift to more meat-free options.

McDonald’s introduced their vegan burger first in Tampere in 2017. The McVegan is made with a soy-based patty, and comes with egg-free sauce. After a trial period, McDonald’s added the burger to its menu across the Nordic region and sold 150,000 of the vegan burgers in the first month alone.

At the end of 2018 they rolled out a vegan version of the El Maco spicy burger called the El Veggo to all 65 restaurants in Finland, but for a limited time only.

In December, Finnish craft burger chain Bun2Bun flipped its meaty menu, and began offering 100% vegan burgers at its three Helsinki locations instead.

File picture of Friends&Brgrs vegan burger / Credit: @friendsandbrgrs Instagram

Another home-grown success story Friends&Brgrs has a gluten-free vegan burger on its menus in Finland, German and Denmark too.

“We did not add a vegan option right at the beginning, but as soon as we had time to come up with a good recipe, we knew that some people wanted to eat vegan. We are in the business to serve people, so it was quite natural to come up with one” explains CEO Peter Fagerholm.

There are currently five Friends&Brgrs restaurants in Finland – with at least three more coming this year in Turku, Tapiola and Seinäjoki – and Fagerholm says they’ve have enough positive feedback that they’ll soon add a second vegan option to the menu.

“There is a growing demand, it’s not growing very fast, but there is a growing demand so we are working on a second vegan product and we will add that to the supply as soon as they’re ready” he tells News Now Finland.

Subway, a popular franchise outlet in Finland, has started offering vegan menu options too. Since the first branch opened in Helsinki, the fast food chain has grown to 155 restaurants with plans to hit 200 by 2020. The vegan chickpea sub with quinoa is the latest addition to the sandwich menu.

File picture of Hesburger restaurant in east Helsinki, January 2018 / Credit: News Now Finland

Fast food tackles climate change

For environmentally-conscious food companies, introducing vegan menu items is not just about following consumer trends – or even setting them – it’s about reflecting a fundamental shift in society’s values, where people are more concerned than ever before about climate change and the impact their actions have on the planet.

“We believe that vegetarian diet is becoming more and more popular and we want to be a part of this development, and continue to make delicious products” says Heini Santos, Hesburger’s Head of Communications.

The Finnish company is raising the stakes by investing more than €10 million in a new factory making plant protein in Kaarina, south west Finland. It will start producing vegan products for Hesburger later this year.

“As for now, Hesburger is doing many things from renewable energy to biodegradable packaging and circular economy to reduce its carbon footprint and to work sustainable” Santos tells News Now Finland.

“As an entrepreneur I need to do my part as well for the environment. It’s been many years already we’ve been doing a lot of vegan products for [our other restaurant chains] Street Gastro and Mad Wok but making the next step is to change everything to 100% vegan” says Bun2Bun co-founder and chef Pertti Kallioinen.

“A lot of people have flexibility, they have days or weeks that you eat vegan or vegetarian food, there’s more of those people every day and then everybody knows what is happening in the world, and everybody should do their part for it”.