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A Cheeky Response to Plant-Based Foods: Arby’s 'Marrot'

Jenna Ammann headshotWords by Jenna Ammann
Consumer Trends
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Arby’s, the quick-service sandwich chain that proclaims, “We Have the Meats,” recently unveiled a creation that is so controversial yet so brave: the Marrot, a carrot made of meat. The “meatable” begins with turkey breast that is sliced and sculpted into carrot shape, rolled in cheesecloth and plastic wrap, cooked sous vide, covered in carrot juice powder, and roasted for an hour. A sprig of parsley is added for a final touch. It’s Arby’s way of sticking to its guns while its competitors pivot to the flexitarian wave in consumers’ eating preferences.

This strategy saved Arby’s in the past and has paid off since; in the face of flexitarians and plant-based meats, it may be the essential ingredient to keep this meat-focused brand strong.

At the end of 2008, sales at Arby’s had fallen 5.8 percent from the previous year; the following year sales were down another 8.2 percent and continued to fall a whopping 11.6 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Desperate attempts to bring customers back included $1 menu options. This low-cost strategy backfired, yielding the lowest profit margins to date. The underlying disconnect between Arby’s and consumers couldn’t be fixed with budget-friendly options. It wasn’t until Wendy’s sold its stake in Arby’s to Roark Group that the company was able to address what was then its weakened brand.

Newly-placed executives focused on strengthening what had historically worked for Arby’s and ditching what didn’t. The brand succeeded when it delivered innovation and quality meats, which became the core of Arby’s revival. According to the company, over 1,000 new recipes are tested by Arby’s every year, creating some memorable sandwiches featuring brisket and even venison. While this hyper-meat focus may have turned some customers away, it worked for those who love meat. Sales grew and, by 2016, Arby’s was renovating and opening new locations for the first time in years.

Arby's Marrot is a signal that the chain is determined not to fall into a lull yet again.

Those repelled by Arby’s meat-centric menu may at least be attracted to the personality of the brand. When the company became the target of multiple roasts by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, it responded with the same deprecating humor. After Stewart retired from hosting the show, Arby’s reached out over Twitter and invited him to apply for a job at their restaurants. This humorous approach to attacks on the brand—whether it be from Jon Stewart or vegetarians—has become a part of Arby’s identity.

The Marrot sends a clear—or, could we say, meaty—message on where Arby’s stands in the plant-based meat wave. While Burger King, Red Robin and other fellow fast-food chains partner with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, Arby’s stays true to brand. The Marrot combines humor with innovation and meat, a recipe that has consistently worked for Arby’s. It may not be for everyone, but neither is Arby’s.

Image credit: Inspire Brands

Jenna Ammann headshotJenna Ammann

Jenna Ammann is a student finishing her senior year studying Corporate Finance and Hospitality at UMass Amherst. She has a focus on investigating environmentally and financially sustainable food service business models. Jenna is from Westport, Massachusetts.

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