'We had to get ahead of skeptics thinking this was a joke': The inside story on Arby's Marrot

The chain's meat-based "carrot" will eventually be available for purchase.

Company: Arby’s
Campaign: Megetable
Agency partners: Edelman (earned media strategy, event production), Moxie USA (video production)
Duration: June 2019

You’ve heard of plant-based burgers. But what about meat-based vegetables?

In the wake of Burger King’s move to start serving the Impossible Burger, Arby’s debuted the Marrot: ground turkey fashioned to look like a carrot.

In April, Burger King disclosed it was testing the Impossible Burger at select locations. The news broke through the standard industry trade publications to receive mainstream press coverage.

"We knew we needed to respond, being the proudly carnivorous brand that we are," said Deborah von Kutzleben, Arby’s head of advertising, content, and core menu. "This was a shot across the bow."

Jim Taylor, Arby’s then-CMO and now-president, gathered together a small group of executives to formulate a response. The conversation quickly turned to the concept of "meat forgery." If other brands could create plant-based products that allegedly looked and tasted like meat, "couldn’t we make vegetables from meat?" von Kutzleben said. "Couldn’t we flip it around? This notion of this new category ensued."

Neville Craw, Arby's brand executive chef, was tasked with figuring out the logistics. 

In May, a false report came out that Arby’s was considering working with Impossible Foods to develop a new plant-based product. Arby’s released a press release stating that such a collaboration was "impossible."

Culinary development of a "megetable" (or meat-based vegetable) was "fast-tracked," von Kutzleben said. Within a few weeks, Craw had come up with a prototype for the Marrot, a dish that looks convincingly like a carrot but is made from marinated ground turkey.

"Our goal was to keep it simple and easy to identify," said Von Kutzleben. "If you were a decently trained chef, could you make this at home?"

It was designed to be the antithesis of the Impossible Burger, "a product created in a lab with ingredients you wouldn’t necessarily recognize," she added.

Because Arby’s wanted to emphasize the Marrot’s natural meat taste, it was important that journalists have the opportunity to try it before launch. In June, the fast-food chain invited a select number of publications, including USA Today, Delish, and Business Insider to stop by a loft space in New York to try the creation. Additional outlets received a press release embargoed for June 26, complete with photos and a test-kitchen video.

Arby’s posted the campaign on its Twitter feed but focused most of its efforts on earned media to "get ahead of any internet skeptics thinking this was a joke," von Kutzleben said. 

The campaign generated around 1,200 earned articles. In addition to receiving a flood of U.S.-centric press, including coverage in The New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN and Fox News, the Marrot was covered by outlets across the globe, including publications in the U.K., Australia, India and Germany. 

Links to news stories on the Marrot were shared more than 160,000 on social media, and the Marrot racked up more than 8,500 individual mentions between Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as of July 5.

Consumer sentiment on social media was overwhelmingly positive, with 95% of posts expressing neutral or favorable sentiment. That said, not everyone is a fan.

"It was fun to see the conversation it stirred up, both positive and negative," von Kutzleben said.

Vegetarians, she noted, "got a little bit caught up in it." 

While Arby’s said the Marrot will eventually be available for purchase, representatives would not confirm a timeline as to when consumers can expect to try it for themselves.

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