This story has been updated.
“As we have worked to better understand customer demand, some markets around the world have tested plant-based products,” Ian Borden, president of international markets for McDonald’s, said during an investor presentation. “Informed by those learnings, we have created a delicious burger that will be the first menu option in a plant-based platform we are calling McPlant. McPlant is crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s.” The quote was provided to The Washington Post from the chain’s public relations team.
While the announcement created a stir in food circles and among vegans and vegetarians ― it may have even satisfied the woman who petitioned McDonald’s for a meatless option seven years ago ― there were still several outstanding questions.
For instance: Who made the plant-based burger for McDonald’s? (After all, the technology behind mock meat can’t be developed overnight or even in a matter of months.) When will the McPlant burger be available in the United States? And could McDonald’s have selected a more generic name than McPlant? At least we know what species we’re dealing with when ordering a McRib or McChicken sandwich. The McPlant sounds as if it could be anything from mung beans to water hemlock.
Unlike Burger King, which debuted its Impossible Whopper last year to wide acclaim, McDonald’s is not officially naming the supplier for its plant-based patties. As Borden noted in his presentation above, the high-tech patty is “crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s,” which, when you think about it, is basically a contradiction.
In an era when people want to know the provenance of their products ― and eaters argue over who makes the best meatless burger on the market ― the corporate silence from McDonald’s on its McPlant supplier is a head-scratcher. It has even led to outright confusion. A research analyst for Euromonitor International, an independent market research company, sent the media some insights on the new McDonald’s sandwich.
“The McPlant line will also significantly impact the market for plant-based foods,” Euromonitor International’s Alex Jarman wrote. “Many fast food chains have introduced plant-based options in recent years, but most of these have been partnerships with Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat. Fast Food partnerships, from KFC to Dunkin' to Qdoba, have been key drivers of these brands’ national growth. McDonald’s decision to create its own plant-based line raises the question if other fast food chains will eventually do the same. Whether that happens or not, the introduction of a plant-based line by the world’s largest fast food chain will certainly challenge these brands’ dominance of the plant-based market.”
Last year, McDonald’s worked with Beyond Meat to test out a P.L.T. (plant, lettuce and tomato) sandwich at select locations in Ontario, and Beyond Meat says it is involved in the production of the McPlant as well, which would make sense. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that Impossible Foods pulled out of the competition to supply meatless burgers to McDonald’s, saying it could not produce enough to keep up with the chain’s demand.
When contacted by The Post, Beyond Meat responded with a one-sentence statement through a spokesperson: “Beyond Meat and McDonald’s co-created a plant-based patty which will be available as part of their McPlant platform.”
During an earnings call, Beyond Meat chief executive Ethan Brown said basically the same thing, that he felt “good about what we’re contributing to the McPlant platform,” according to a report by the Motley Fool. Brown added that he prefers when a chain brands its product with Beyond’s name, such as Carl’s Jr.'s Beyond Famous Star burger, but respects McDonald’s decision to stick with the McPlant handle.
The questions around Beyond Meat’s involvement with the McPlant burger don’t seem to be helping the company’s stock, which dropped nearly 17 percent on Tuesday.
When will America gets its hands on a McPlant burger? That, too, is a mystery. Borden said that some markets will begin taste-testing the sandwich next year but that a timetable was not immediately available. In a blog post on Monday, McDonald’s simply wrote, “Markets can adopt the McPlant when they’re ready and we expect some to test the burger next year.”
In more-concrete news, McDonald’s said it will introduce a crispy chicken sandwich to restaurants across the country next year, a development that should come as welcome news to franchisees who had been waiting not-so-patiently to compete in the fast-food poultry wars. Described as a fried chicken fillet topped with crinkle-cut pickles and butter, served on a toasted potato roll, the new sandwich sounds like a significant improvement over McDonald’s jury-rigged offering last year, a spicy barbecue chicken sandwich, which tasted as if it were built with spare parts found in Ronald McDonald’s shed.
McDonald’s is also bringing back the cult favorite, the McRib, nationwide for the first time in eight years. It will be available for a limited time only, starting on Dec. 2.
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