McPlant will save animals from becoming Big Macs––millions? Billions?
CHICAGO, Illinois––Sixty years after the first McDonald’s attempt to introduce a meatless burger became perhaps the most notorious flop in fast food history, the company appears poised to try again––and not a moment too soon for animals and the earth.
Beginning on Valentine’s Day 2022, 600 McDonald’s restaurant franchises in the San Francisco and Dallas areas will begin offering McPlant, a meatless burger co-developed with Beyond Meat.
The introduction is part of a worldwide corporate commitment to reducing McDonald’s contribution to carbon emissions contributing to global warming.
Heme for he-men
McPlant, summarized The Beet staff writer Maxwell Rabb, “features a Beyond Meat patty made from potatoes, rice, and peas, topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard. The McPlant also comes with dairy-based American cheese and mayo, but customers can easily ask to remove the animal-based ingredients.
“While not dairy-free in the United States,” Rabb added, “the United Kingdom version features a plant-based cheese and mayo that could make its way stateside.”
Rabb did not mention the “secret” ingredient: heme.
Heme, the chemical compound that makes blood red, provides the taste and smell that meat-eaters most closely associate with meat.
Heme, however, can also be extracted from plants. The use of plant-derived heme as a flavoring agent is believed to be chiefly responsible for the commercial success of both Beyond Meat and Impossible brand plant-based meat alternatives.
Tested in Texas, Iowa, Louisiana, & southern California
McPlant, continued Rabb, “initially launched in Irving and Carrollton, Texas; Cedar Falls, Iowa; Jennings and Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Manhattan Beach and El Segundo, California.”
“That test run,” begun in November 2021, “helped the company determine how a plant-based option would alter its kitchen operations,” reported Dee-Ann Durbin of Associated Press.
“McDonald’s said the larger product offering will help it understand customer demand,” Durbin wrote.
“McDonald’s first tested a Beyond Meat burger called the PLT,” short for Plant, Lettuce, and Tomato, at 28 restaurants in Ontario, Canada, “in 2019,” Durbin added, “but later pulled it off the menu. Last year, it started testing the McPlant in several European markets, including Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.”
Enthused Rabb, “McDonald’s plant-based development signifies a monumental shift in the fast-food market as major players begin to realize the legitimacy of plant-based eating. A Nielson report found that 39% of Americans try to purchase meat and dairy alternatives whenever possible, attempting to incorporate plant-based foods into their diet. The vegan fast food market reflects this rising interest, expected to reach $40 billion by 2028.”
“Ahead of the initial launch,” Rabb said, McDonald’s “claimed ‘It has the iconic taste of a McDonald’s burger because it is one.’”
Noting that the McPlant burger “is cooked on a shared surface with animal products,” VegNews senior news editor Anna Starostinetskaya mentioned that “Prior to this expansion announcement, Wall Street analysts were optimistic that McDonald’s would expand the McPlant sooner than expected due to its successful performance in test markets.
“After only a month on the menu,” Starostinetskaya said, “the McPlant was hitting sales targets of 70 burgers per day at each of the eight test locations.
When will McPlant go national––and go fully vegan?
“Analyst Michael Lavery, from investment banking company Piper Sandler,” Starostinetskaya continued, “believes that a national rollout of the McPlant to McDonald’s more than 13,600 US restaurants can occur as early as the end of the first quarter of 2022.”
“Peter Saleh, of global finances firm BTIG, predicts that the McPlant will go national in 2023,” Starostinetskaya added.
“Last month,” Starostinetskaya mentioned, “a fully vegan version of the McPlant—featuring vegan mayonnaise and cheese and cooked on a separate grill—landed at 250 locations across the United Kingdom with a full national rollout expected next year.”
Beyond Meat founder realizes goal for children
Starostinetskaya also recalled that, “In 2016, when Beyond Meat Founder and chief executive Ethan Brown initially launched the Beyond Burger, the entrepreneur already had his sights set on McDonald’s.
“I’ve set a goal for the company and for myself, and it is very personal to me,” Brown told Fortune magazine then. “By the time my kids are 16—they are 11 and 12 today—they should be able to walk into a McDonald’s or Burger King and be able to buy a Beyond Burger.”
Rabb of The Beet, Durbin of Asssociated Press, and Starostinetskaya of VegNews all see McPlant as the breaking edge of a tidal wave to follow.
“Earlier this month,” wrote Durbin, “KFC [formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken] announced it was expanding its Beyond Meat plant-based chicken tenders nationwide. Chipotle also recently introduced a plant-based chorizo that it developed in-house.”
Beyond Meat, Rabb recounted, “has also teamed up with Taco Bell to develop proprietary plant-based meat that will provide customers with a sustainable plant protein substitute, available on its entire menu. Currently, the company is exclusively serving its vegan meat at 100 locations.”
But Mickey D couldn’t sell salad
The Street managing editor Daniel Kline, however, is skeptical.
“McPlant might be different,” Kline wrote, “but the fast-food giant has gone down this road before and the ending has always been the same.
“McDonald’s dropped all of its salads during the pandemic,” Kline observed.
“That happened as part of an effort to streamline the company’s menu––which made sense during the time when the chain’s dining rooms were closed and all orders were delivery or drive-through––but salads have not returned to its menu, even though operations have returned to (somewhat) normal.
“According to food research firm Technomic,” Kline said, “47% of Americans say they want healthier restaurant options, but only about 23% actually order them. So Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s can offer all the apple slices and plain baked potatoes and yogurt parfaits they want, but despite what customers say, these items aren’t selling.”
Salads only accounted for 3% of McDonald’s sales before they were discontinued, Kline alleged.
And Mickey D couldn’t sell Hula Burgers
Acknowledged Durbin, “McDonald’s has been slower to market with a plant-based burger than rivals. Burger King introduced the plant-based Impossible Whopper — made by Beyond Meat rival Impossible Foods — in 2019, while Starbucks brought out a breakfast sandwich made with Impossible sausage in 2020.”
But McDonald’s beat every other fast food company ––by decades––in offering a vegetarian burger.
Remembers https://mcdonalds.fandom.com, “The Hula Burger was a meatless burger introduced in 1963 by Ray Kroc to McDonald’s. It was a substitute for American Catholics who would not eat meat on Fridays. The burger was a slice of grilled pineapple with cheese on a bun. But this was designed to go up against the Filet-O-Fish, which was created by a Catholic franchisee, Lou Groen (1917-2011, of Cincinnati.) McDonald’s ended production of the Hula Burger early on, as it became quickly evident that its alternative, the Filet-O-Fish, was getting much better traction.”
“They don’t care what a burger is made of, if they make money
Observed Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira in April 1994, after winning a tentative agreement from McDonald’s to enforce an animal welfare code for suppliers of meat, eggs, and dairy products, “We have been successful in getting laboratory users of animals to accept the ‘Three R’ principles of reduction, refinement, and replacement, and we think a similar approach can succeed in the food industry, through market mechanisms.
“McDonald’s is resistant to the idea of offering vegetarian burgers,” Spira conceded, because they had that godawful failure with a pineapple burger, but once someone like Burger King proves a vegetarian burger will sell, they don’t care what the burger they sell is made of, as long as they make money.”
Burger King, after testing two types of meatless burger in England for more than a decade, and then testing both at 39 franchises in upstate New York, in March 2002 finally reached for U.S. vegetarian market share by introducing the BK Veggie sandwich.
The BK Veggie remained a relatively slow but steady seller for 17 years, before yielding menu place to the Impossible Whopper––a far more profitable product, selling in much greater volume at twice the purchase price of the BK Veggie.
Like the McPlant burger, discussion of which is already raging across all social media platforms, the BK Veggie was initially controversial among vegans and animal rights activists because it was not a pure vegan product.
“It’s about lessening suffering”
Responded Vegan Outreach cofounder Matt Ball, “Being vegan, for me, is about lessening suffering and working for animal liberation as efficiently as possible. It has nothing to do with personal purity, or my ego.”
Agreed Eric Marcus, author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, and the publisher of Vegan.com, “The BK Veggie represents an unprecedented opportunity in animal rights movement history. But if it flops, it might set the spread of vegetarianism back 10 years.
“I have exchanged e-mails with people at BK,” Marcus continued. “Their food scientists calculate that by weight, the BK Veggie is better than 99% vegan.
“I’d be reluctant to eat a small amount of animal product in the hope that it would help produce animal liberation. But with the BK Veggie, the quantities involved are trivial, and the success of this product is of the utmost importance to farmed animals everywhere. We have one chance, and if we turn our back on it for the sake of maintaining the illusion of 100% purity, then shame on us,” Marcus finished.
PETA passed out BK Veggies
PETA, which had picketed Burger King in the past, gave away 200 free BK Veggies in a March 2002 demonstration near the Burger King head office in Miami.
“We’re sending our activists to Burger King again this year, but this time it’s for lunch,” PETA self-described “sexy vegetarian lettuce lady” Kristie Phelps told Scott Sonner of Associated Press. “We think going vegetarian is the best thing people can do, and Burger King has made that easier.”
Twenty years later the arguments are the same.
Animal consumption worldwide is at an all-time high, despite the increasing popularity of plant-based diets in Europe and North America.
Global warming associated with meat production poses an ever more ominous threat, not only to climatic stability but to social stability and world peace.
McDonald’s restaurants serve more meals per day than even the commissaries of the largest armies.
The stakes at risk with the McPlant burger could scarcely be greater.
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