While many fast-food fans are following the chicken sandwich wars, others have been following the plant-based burger wars. White Castle was the first fast-food chain to offer such an option with the launch of its Impossible Sliders in April of 2018. Carl’s Jr. joined the party with their Beyond Famous Star Burger in December of the same year. Then, Burger King arguably became a fan-favorite when it released its Impossible Whopper in August of 2019.
Non-burger chains like Del Taco and KFC have adopted plant-based offerings as well, while other restaurants like Chipotle and Dunkin’ have tested out limited-run items. But McDonald’s has seemingly lagged far behind when it comes to plant-based items. Vegetarians wondered if Mickey D’s was just too set in his ways, or if he was trying to take a stand against the new wave of plant-based eating.
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Well, if recent test numbers are any indication, the reason the world’s biggest fast-food chain was lagging on a plant-based option might have been because they worried that it wouldn’t do well with their customers. And they may have been partially right.
McDonald’s unveiled the McPlant, made with Beyond Meat, in 2020. The plant-based burger did very well in early tests, with sales of about 70 per day in eight locations (three times more than market analysts expected). Unfortunately, the new numbers from the chain’s expanded tests of the McPlant are not looking anywhere near as good.
Here’s how the McPlant is really doing
The current test markets are in California and Texas, and the McPlant isn’t selling as well as franchisees expected it to, according to a report from BTIG analysts Peter Saleh and Ben Parente. Furthermore, the lukewarm reception seems to be compounded further by local preferences. According to the report, the McPlant is selling about 20 burgers a day in cities like Dallas and San Francisco, but only 3-5 burgers a day in more rural areas.
Unfortunately, even 20 burgers a day is far less than the predicted 40 to 60 burgers per day that McDonald’s was hoping for. Additionally, the McPlant is made to order, and Saleh suggests it may be slowing down operations—a huge drawback for a fast-food giant like McDonald’s.
These disappointing sales seem like a throwback to McDonald’s unsuccessful plant-based test in Canada, where the PLT burger ended up being discontinued after a test run.
The burger may have better luck overseas
You might be thinking, “maybe the reason the McPlant is selling poorly is that it just doesn’t taste good,” but Mickey D’s fans in the UK beg to differ. The chain announced the nationwide availability of its McPlant in the UK in January. This overseas version is slightly different than its American counterpart because it’s 100% vegan. The burger served in the US has a bun, cheese, and mayo sauce which are not vegan (and the patty will likely be cooked on the same grill as their regular burgers).
One UK-based Redditor called the McPlant “amazing” and rated it a “10/10.” Another Redditor says it’s been “temporarily unavailable” at his local Mickey D’s for the past few days, hinting that they think it’s so popular that it sold out. Judging by another Redditor who said they’ve had 6 in the last three days, they might be right.
McDonald’s may be pushing away what should be their target market (vegans and vegetarians) in the US due to their decision to use a non-vegan bun, sauce, and cheese on the McPlant (not to mention the preparation methods). It’s also possible that the type of person who is trying to cut down cholesterol, make eco-friendly choices, or reduce harm to animals simply doesn’t eat at McDonald’s.
The future of McPlant in America is uncertain
So, will American customers ever see a nationwide rollout of the McPlant like fellow herbivores across the pond? It’s hard to say. Restaurant Business notes that both McDonald’s and Beyond Meat have invested a lot of time and money into the burger and that it won’t just “go away.” But, Saleh says that there likely won’t be a national rollout anytime soon. “We expect both McDonald’s and Beyond Meat to continue to tweak the product and messaging to drive broader acceptance,” he stated.