Burger Lounge to test-market new plant-based menu options

The Flora Lounge Burger, a plant-based burger at Burger Lounge Del Mar and Hillcrest
The Flora Lounge Burger, a plant-based burger with vegan cheese being test-marketed in October at Burger Lounge locations in Del Mar and Hillcrest.
(Courtesy of Burger Lounge)

New Flora and Fauna menu will be offered at only two San Diego locations in October


Burger Lounge, that 23-store restaurant chain that opened its first grass-fed beef burger outlet in La Jolla 13 years ago, is about to get very serious about plant-based proteins.

On Monday, Sept. 28, the company began test-marketing a new menu that offers a plant-based protein alternative for many of its burger, sandwich and salad entrees. The new Flora and Fauna choose-your-protein menu was introduced Monday at the chain’s location in Hillcrest at Fourth and University avenues and it will be introduced two weeks later at the Del Mar location in the Flower Hill Promenade center on Via de la Valle. A store in L.A.’s Larchmont community will be testing a different plant-based product.

Company co-founder J. Dean Loring said the monthlong test will determine which products customers like the best. Then the winning dishes will be rolled out chainwide. Burger Lounge has had an ancient grains burger on its menu since 2007, but Loring hopes the new expanded Flora and Fauna menu will triple plant-based product sales to 30 percent of overall revenues.

Loring said the emerging customer segment he’s especially hoping to attract is “flexetarians,” omnivore diners who are eating more plant-based products for health and other reasons. Flexetarians often prefer plant-based proteins that best mimic the flavor and texture of meat, so Burger Lounge is test-marketing two different burger options. In Hillcrest and Del Mar, diners will be able to try Sweet Earth’s Awesome Burger, and in Larchmont, diners will get the Impossible Burger.

Loring said he likes the Awesome Burger, which has pea protein powder as its main ingredient, because he says it’s less processed and better nutritionally than most plant-based burgers. But it doesn’t have the name recognition of the Impossible Burger.

“We’re letting our guests decide which direction they will go,” he said. “The Impossible Burger probably comes closer to emulating meat than others in flavor and texture profile. We want to find out who the guest is for this new menu. We think flexetarians represent a lot of the diners wanting a complete experience. We’ll gather the data, and then we’ll roll it out.”

Besides adding plant-based burgers, the expanded menu will also feature cashew-based non-dairy shakes, vegan cheese and plant-based chicken nugget-like alternatives. The restaurant chain’s kitchens are also being transformed. Cooking areas have been revamped to create separate food prep and frying areas for vegan-only items.

“Rather than offer one plant-based protein item in an otherwise unchanging menu, we decided to offer 40 percent or more of our menu for a complete experience for our flexetarian, vegetarian and vegan diners. It’s more of a holistic approach that really represents a pivot in the brand,” Loring said.

Over the past few years, most of the nation’s fast-food chains have added plant-based burgers and other items to their menus with increasing success. These items, like Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, now represent 3.5 percent of all quick-service restaurant sales nationwide, according to several studies.

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune