YOU KNOW A TREND HAS GONE mainstream when it captures the Magic Kingdom. That is what's happening with veggie burgers, thanks partly to a deal put together by Roy Disney's Shamrock Holdings.
In October, 1994, Shamrock's investment arm, Trefoil II, acquired a minority interest in Fantastic Foods of Petaluma, Calif. The company makes Nature's Burger, a vegetable-and-grain alternative to beef patties. Just six months later, these veggie burgers are being sold at Disneyland and Disney World.
Coincidence? Not really. In addition to heading Shamrock, Disney, who is Walt's nephew, is vice-chairman of the board of Walt Disney Co., which owns the parks. "That relationship helped," notes Clifford Miller, managing director of Shamrock and Trefoil II. However, he also says he would like to think Disney would have given Fantastic Foods a shot even without executive influence.
Indeed, demand has been strong: After a short test period, restaurants at the Disney parks have boosted their orders from 100 to 7,500 veggie burgers per week. Besides, veggie burgers might be a fine fit for Disney's goody-goody image. "Can you imagine Cinderella eating meat products full of fats and nitrates?" asks Larry Tsai, director of marketing at Fantastic Foods. "All her little animal friends in Disneyland would turn their faces to the ground with shame."