According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a number of customers complained that three of Burger King’s adverts, published on the company’s social media accounts in January 2020, were “misleading”.
The first advert, which was published on Burger King's Twitter feed, stated: “You asked and we listened. Introducing the Rebel Whopper, our first plant-based burger!”
An image of the burger was seen alongside the tweet with a round sticker on the product which stated: “100 per cent Whopper. No beef.”
Elsewhere, one of the posts on the Burger King Facebook account stated “taste of being woke” next to an image of the Rebel Whopper burger.
However, customers complained after learning that the Rebel Whopper was not actually suitable for vegans, vegetarians and those with egg allergies because it was cooked alongside meat products and used egg-based mayonnaise.
Following an investigation by the ASA, Burger King explained that small print at the bottom of the adverts stated that the Rebel Whopper may not be suitable for vegans or vegetarians as it was cooked alongside other meat products.
The company added that the information was clearly communicated to journalists and clearly stated on all social media posts and subsequent customer dialogue.
Burger King added that the product itself consisted of a 100 per cent plant-based patty supplied by the Vegetarian Butcher and had no beef. They explained that a customer who did not want mayonnaise could have excluded that from their order.
However, the ASA upheld the complaints and demanded that Burger King ensured they did not misleadingly imply that a product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians if it was not.
“We considered that consumers would understand the claims '100 per cent Whopper. No beef' and in particular the claim 'plant-based burger' to mean that the burger did not contain any beef or animal products,” an ASA spokesperson said.
“We considered that the presence of the 'Vegetarian Butcher' logo, 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.”
The spokesperson continued by highlighting the fact that the burger was cooked on the same grill as meat products and that it contained egg-based mayonnaise.
“Additionally, that qualification did not refer to the presence of egg mayonnaise and, in any case, it was missing from the other Facebook ad entirely, and also missing from the Twitter ad as it appeared in-feed,” the spokesperson added.
“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.
“The ads must not appear again in their current form.”
Ahead of the Rebel Whopper’s launch in January, Katie Evans, marketing director of Burger King described the new addition as a “game changer”.
“We wanted our first plant-based Whopper to replicate the indulgence and flame-grilled taste of the real thing as closely as possible, and we’re thrilled with the result,” she said.
“We’re delighted to satisfy the demand for this highly-anticipated product and finally bring the Rebel to the UK.”
Toni Vernelli, international head of communications and marketing at the Veganuary campaign, added that the Rebel Whopper will still be valuable to those trying to eat a more vegan-friendly diet, despite not being 100 per cent suitable for vegans.
“For all of the important issues that Veganuary – and most vegans – are trying to address through their food choices it makes absolutely no difference whether the plant-based patty is cooked separately or on the same grill as the meat,” she said.
“What does make a big difference to animals and the planet is when non-vegans choose a plant-based menu option, enjoy it and then order it again. And that’s exactly who Burger King’s plant-based Whopper is aimed at, flexitarians who want to reduce their meat consumption for health or environmental reasons, or are considering going vegan.”