McDonald’s, largely a holdout in the faux-meat battle that’s been raging at fast food chains for nearly two years, plans to finally enter the plant-based burger wars.
The brand was stingy with details on when and how the product will launch, with senior leaders announcing during an investor meeting on Monday that “markets can adopt when they’re ready.” Plant-based protein experts quickly hailed the plant-based product, a co-creation with Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat, for further mainstreaming the category.
But that name, though.
McPlant is the term McDonald’s chose, apparently to describe both the first sandwich and an upcoming platform of menu options, likely to include imitation chicken nuggets and breakfast items.
“We believe we have a proven, delicious-tasting product,” said McDonald’s international president, Ian Borden. “When customers are ready for it, we are ready for them.”
Twitter users couldn’t resist trolling the chain over the somewhat generic, head-scratcher of a name. The jokes—or, the McRibbin’, if you will—came quickly in response this week.
The fast food behemoth has tentatively dipped its toe in the water on plant-based burgers, while its competitors like Burger King, Starbucks, Carl’s Jr., White Castle, KFC and many others have aggressively added faux meat to their menus. The brands have reported consistently strong sales for the alt-meat products.
McDonald’s tested a PLT (a plant-based play on the McDLT) with Beyond Meat in Canada but never expanded on the initial run, which ended last year.
By using the word “plant” in the branding, McDonald’s swims against the tide of current marketing to flexitarians, those consumers who eat meat but increasingly opt out of animal protein for health and sustainability reasons. That demo has spurred explosive growth in the category, particularly during this year’s lockdown, and has consistently cited taste as a motivator in buying faux meat. The so-called analog products, the ones that most closely mimic real meat, have driven the trend.
Pizza Hut, for example, named its just-announced faux-meat menu items the Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza and the Great Beyond (featuring onions, banana peppers and tomato).
The name wasn’t the only curious bit of information (or lack thereof) from the McDonald’s news. Execs at the company didn’t mention any collaboration with Beyond Meat during their Monday announcement on a call, saying the first burger was “crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s.”
Later in the day, a Beyond spokesperson issued this statement: “Beyond Meat and McDonald’s co-created the plant-based patty which will be available as part of their McPlant platform.” The public company, 2019’s IPO darling, saw its share price increase with the news.
McDonald’s didn’t give an explanation for the apparent oversight, and neither side was willing to be more specific about 2021 rollout plans or product ingredients.
Both Beyond and competitor Impossible Foods have their brand names featured prominently in many of their restaurant deals—the Impossible Whopper, for instance, and the Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich at Dunkin.
Regardless of the questions and debate around the McPlant announcement, advocates in the category said they were happy to see the chain join the faux-meat movement.
“There’s been much anticipation from consumers for plant-based options at McDonald’s,” said Sabina Vyas, senior director, strategic initiatives, Plant Based Foods Association. The move “further cements that the plant-based industry is a mainstream part of the American diet.”
Analysts didn’t have anything disparaging to say about the McPlant name, not publicly anyway, but others filled the void.
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