McDonald’s Appears to Have Given Up on the McPlant

The plant-based burger never seemed to have the chain’s full support in the U.S. as it was cooked on the same grill as meat-based burgers.

The McPlant has been a disappointment in the United States since it launched in a limited trial in 2021. Just the fact that McDonald’s (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation Report did not make the plant-based burger available nationwide suggested it always had doubts about how Americans would receive the menu item.

A partnership with Beyond Meat (BYND) – Get Beyond Meat Inc. Report, the plant-based burger has been popular in some markets around the world.

“The patty is served on a sesame seed bun with tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and a slice of American cheese,” the company said in a press release back in 2021. “It has the iconic taste of a McDonald’s burger because it is.”

In November 2021, the Golden Arches began testing the McPlant in a few select restaurants and rolled out the trial to 600 locations in 2022.

The chain has lagged behind Restaurant Brands International’s (QSR) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc. Report Burger King when it comes to having a plant-based burger. That chain has had some success with its Impossible Whopper, but McDonald’s has struggled to do the same with McPlant.

The plant-based McDonald’s “burger” was always a tough sell as it’s not vegan (it has mayonnaise and cheese) and it’s cooked on the same surface as the chain’s traditional meat patties. That made it a plant-based burger for people who were most certainly not strict vegetarians.

Is The McPlant Finally McOver?

In its latest earning call for the quarter ending in June 2022, McDonald’s chief executive Chris Kempczinski talked about inflation (the chain recently raised the price of its cheeseburger in the United Kingdom for the first time in 14 years) but avoided touching on the McPlant.

The company later confirmed to multiple media outlets that the test period had “concluded as planned.”

The chain has ended the pilot program for the McPlant, QSR Magazine reported. What that exactly means was not fully defined, but it appears that the plant-based burger is finished in the U.S., at least for now.

Image source: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

Stock of Beyond Meat  (BYND) – Get Beyond Meat Inc. Report, the vegetarian patties used in the McPlant, immediately tanked by more than 6% immediately after the announcement was made. The alternative meat maker has already had a rough year, falling by nearly 52% since the start of 2021.

So how did things get to a McPlant being rolled out to great fanfare to the gradual fizzling out of a veggie burger that, for most fast-food chains, has long been a core part of the menu?

Don’t Judge The Vegetarian Market on McPlant’s Mistakes

An early report from BTIG analysts Peter Saleh and Ben Parente found that the McPlant was only selling about 20 sandwiches per day in many test markets in California and Texas.

“For McPlant to be more ubiquitous, the price point needs to be more competitive with traditional burgers, and the health and climate benefits need to have greater emphasis,” Saleh and Parente wrote in March 2022.

The failure may also be because the U.S. mostly still associates McDonald’s with both indulgence and tradition and may be less likely to try a vegetarian burger.

The McPlant’s lack of popularity should not, however, be used to discount the growing demand for alternative meat and cheese options. 

While early players like Beyond have been struggling to set themselves apart as a host of new competitors crowded in, the plant-based market is still expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.3% by 2030 as more and more people in Western countries try to minimize meat consumption for both health and environmental reasons.

Past efforts to give itself a healthier rebrand, such as short-lived salad shakers in 2000 and Premium Salads in 2003, have also not be fruitful for the company

The McVeggie, a corn-and-pea patty that launched in 2012 when McDonald’s opened its first vegetarian-only restaurant in India, is a part of the main menu in New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Hong Kong.

The global alternative meat market is expected to reach $24.8 billion by 2030. 

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