Will McDonald's Join the Veganism Trend?
Ever since going public on the stock market, Beyond Meat’s valuation has grown over 500% with the possibility for it to go even higher. Rival company Impossible Foods, although not publicly owned, is dominating the competition in terms of internet traffic and exposure. Between the two companies, dozens of plant-based partnerships have been made with notable brands, such as Burger King, Shake Shack, Little Caesar’s, and Red Robin. Even Arby’s has acknowledged the trend, albeit making a completely contrary creation titled the ‘Megetable’, an invention that looks strikingly similar to a carrot despite being made of ground turkey. There is a distinct absence of golden arches in this list of partnerships, though.
McDonald’s, one of the most well-known brands in the entire world, has yet to partner with any companies in this new wave of plant-based alternatives. The closest the company has come to competing with Burger King’s ‘Impossible Whopper’ or A&W’s ‘Beyond Meat Burger’ is the release of the ‘Big Vegan TS’ (TS standing for tomato and salad, or lettuce, onion, pickles). McDonald’s partnered with Nestlé for the patty, using their ‘Incredible Burger’ to emulate meat in the same way as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers. This new sandwich can only be found in Germany, McDonald’s' fourth largest market, replacing the ‘Veggie Burger TS’.
This is a bit unusual though, as despite Germany having a larger market, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden have a larger population of individuals interested in veganism. Meatless options are available in countries with a large vegetarian population, such as India and Israel, but McDonald’s North America remains unaffected by the growing trend. For most countries, the only completely vegan options are apple pie and salads with the meat removed, as even the fries are prepared using animal by-products.
McDonald’s has stated that it frequently considers the possibility of bringing vegetarian options to the rest of the world. The caveat is that these options must fit with their overall brand mentality. The major concern the Chicago-based company has with vegan or vegetarian options, and the reason it may never introduce such items to North America, is how it may affect their focus on the ‘fast’ part of fast-food. Vegan burgers wouldn't be the first idea to be struck down by the speed of service focused chain, though.
Four years ago, McDonald’s introduced the ‘Create-Your-Taste’ burgers at select locations across North America. A variety of unique, gourmet toppings were offered for guests to use to create a burger that fit their personal craving. The novelty of the idea soon wore off though, as the company realized that personalized burgers could get a little too expensive and would take a little too long to prepare. Rather than memorizing basic burger builds, employees had to slow down to focus on the specifics of the unique orders. The concept of ‘fast-food’ was lost, resulting in the company replacing the personalized burgers with their premium ‘Signature Creation’ collection.
Additionally, in 2017 McDonald’s began to market an all-day breakfast menu. This meant that at any hour of the day customers could order an egg McMuffin and hashbrown. While this was incredibly well received across all of North America, McDonald’s eventually discovered that an all-day breakfast menu could be troublesome. While hamburger patties would always be cooked and ready, an egg or sausage would only start cooking when an order called for one. This influenced McDonald’s to allow individual franchises to select which all-day breakfast items will actually be ‘all-day’, streamlining the fast-food process in those locations.
In addition to speed of service, chains as massive as McDonald’s usually only consider alternative meal options if the market for them is large enough. According to a 2016 poll from the Vegetarian Resource Group, about 8 million American adults are vegetarian. Under half of that group claim to be vegan as well. Considering America population in 2016 was 323.4 million, vegetarians represented only 2.4% of the market – a fraction too small to show promise for McDonald’s.
Finally, many individuals who choose vegetarian or vegan lifestyles do so in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stresses the importance of an “appropriately planned” vegetarian or vegan diet, packed with nutritional substitutes to replace animal-based protein and iron. McDonald's may be fast and convenient, but it isn't commonly considered healthy or nutritious. As such, the chain is not likely to benefit from offering a vegetarian or vegan burger.
McDonald’s is aware of the growing trend of alternatively sourced protein though, and the possibility that it may not be a passing trend. According to Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown, a study done by the company found that 93% of consumers buying Beyond Meat products are still buying traditional meat in addition to the alternative. Futhermore, the number of Beyond Meat consumers is expected to grow as prices for plant-based alternatives drop. Depending on the future of plant-based meat, vegan and vegetarian burgers may still have a chance to show up in McDonald's locations across North America. The allure is so strong that former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson has even invested in it. The biggest question for now is who McDonald's could partner with.