In early November 2020, global fast-food giant McDonald’s announced that they would be joining retailers like Burger King and A&W with the release of their newest menu item: a plant-based burger called the McPlant.
Many fast-food chains have introduced new plant-based menu items over the last several years, but McDonald’s is poised to stand alone because of one major difference. Instead of joining forces with a third-party producer like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, they’ve decided to bring the creation of their McPlant entirely in-house.
This is set to make an enormous impact not just on their sales, but on the shape of the fast-food industry as a whole. If they’re successful, it will incentivize other restaurants and chains to start exploring their own forms of meatless protein, specifically calibrated to the tastes of their consumers. For an industry with an average annual revenue of more than $200 billion in the United States alone, even the slightest shift away from factory-farmed meat could mark the beginning of a rare positive environmental trend.
Today, we’ll delve into the work that’s gone into the creation of this plant-based burger, and explore the environmental impact we might be able to hope for once it debuts on the McDonald’s menu in 2021.
Why Make the McPlant In-House?
Although the announcement of the McPlant was made with great fanfare in late 2020, it wasn’t the first time McDonald’s has dabbled in plant-based meals. In 2019 alone, the company ran two separate pilot projects to explore their customers’ interest in meatless main courses. The first, a vegan burger, was launched in Germany in April 2019. The second was a plant-based burger they called the P.L.T (short for ‘plant, lettuce, and tomato’), which was quietly tested in 28 Canadian restaurants. Both of these pilot projects used plant-based products developed by external groups, including Sweet Earth Foods and Beyond Meat.
Since those pilots, McDonald’s has been coy about their future with plant-based products – until now. The announcement of the McPlant and the fact that it will be made in-house is a big step forward for the global fast-food giant. It allows them to tailor its taste to their customers, and after more than 70 years, McDonald’s execs know their customers inside and out. Making the McPlant in-house also ensures that they’ll be able to treat the patty’s core components just like any other ingredient, sourcing beneficial deals from their suppliers to keep costs low.
How This Will Impact Our Planet
McDonald’s isn’t the first fast-food chain to introduce a plant-based meat alternative. Burger King introduced the Impossible Whopper in 2019, while Little Caesars added Impossible sausage to their menu the same year. In 2020, Pizza Hut partnered with Beyond Meat to add Beyond sausage to their pizzas, while KFC experimented with vegan Beyond Fried Chicken.
The fact that almost every major fast-food retailer has added a prominent vegan or plant-based menu item is set to have a major impact on our planet. Although Beyond Meat products have been served in restaurants since 2012, the wide availability and inexpensive price point of fast food mean that these products are now accessible to a much wider audience.
Evidence of this change can be found in a recent poll conducted by Gallup, which found that although only about 5% of Americans identify as vegan or vegetarian, 40% of people surveyed in 2019 had tried a plant-based meat product. With more than 13,800 restaurants in the United States alone, McDonald’s has a unique opportunity to grow this percentage even higher. The widespread accessibility of McDonald’s, combined with their low price point and familiar taste is set to make plant-based meats even more popular.
Move Towards a Plant-Based Diet Today
As more of us move toward a plant-based diet, it makes a positive environmental impact by contributing to a lower carbon footprint, reducing our use of fresh water for animal farming, and saving habitats that would otherwise be demolished to be used for livestock grazing and feeding.
You don’t have to wait until the McPlant is released in 2021. You can start moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle by incorporating more meatless meals into your diet today.