Adverts for US fast-food giant Burger King’s plant-based Rebel Whopper burgers have been banned in the UK.
The UK advertising watchdog – the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – said ads for the burgers, which are made by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, are misleading because they suggest they are vegan and vegetarian-friendly despite the fact they are cooked alongside meat products and contain egg in the mayonnaise dressing.
There was no suggestion the burger patties themselves are anything other than plant-based.
The patties are made for Miami, Florida-headquartered Burger King by Unilever via its Netherlands-based The Vegetarian Butcher operation.
The ASA said the chain’s claim that the burger is “100% Whopper, no beef” could be understood to mean it did not contain animal products.
UK broadcaster the BBC quoted Burger King as saying it had been “clear and transparent” in its marketing.
“We communicated from the outset that the Rebel Whopper is aimed at a flexitarian audience,” it said.
But the ASA said in its ruling: “The green colour palette and the timing of the ad and product release to coincide with ‘Veganuary’ contributed further to the impression that the product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians.”
Some of the adverts included small print saying “cooked alongside meat products”.
But the ASA said: “We considered it was not sufficiently prominent to override the overall impression that the burger was suitable for vegetarians and vegans.”
The organisation said it had received ten complaints from consumers who understood that the Rebel Whopper was not suitable for vegans, or vegetarians and those with egg allergies because it was cooked alongside meat products and used egg-based mayonnaise and challenged whether the claims “100% Whopper No Beef” and “plant-based burger” in ads were misleading.
“Because the overall impression of the ads was that the burger was suitable for vegans and vegetarians when in fact it was not, we concluded that the ads were misleading,” it said in its ruling.
Unilever won the contract to supply Burger King’s UK and European outlets, currently closed because of the Covid-19 imposed lockdown of restaurants, with plant-based burgers in November.
It utilised the expertise of The Vegetarian Butcher, which it acquired in December 2018.
just-food has asked Unilever for a response to the ASA ruling.