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Leon Kaye headshot

Two All Plant-Based Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese …

A holdout no longer: McDonald's is test marketing its version of a plant-based burger at eight U.S. locations starting the first week in November.
By Leon Kaye

… pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun.” Burgers have since come a long way, baby, including plenty of plant-based options.

You might be aging yourself if you know that Big Mac jingle, one that many who grew up during the 1970s and 80s associate with memories of piling into the station wagon for a trip to the Golden Arches.

Others may associate that jingle with Styrofoam waste  - as in the clamshell containers that were eliminated years ago after many protests (and are even part of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., though currently the item is not on display.) Then there are the associations with deforestation, obesity and sight pollution often coming in the form of strip mall locations and drive-thrus.

While McDonald’s here in the U.S. has been a holdout on the plant-based sandwich scene, the company has long served a non-mean option in several markets globally: Sweden has had veggie burgers on McDonald’s menus on and off since the 1990s.

But the reality is that other chains such as Burger King, KFC and Del Taco have at a minimum tinkered with rolling out test menu items that are plant-based. Many plant-based burgers or tacos have become a fixture, allowing companies to win new customers in a very competitive market. Plus, with the state of advertising and marketing in flux, introducing plant-based items is a sure-fire way to score some earned media.

So, while McDonald’s motives aren’t exactly clear, what we do know is that the plant-based ceiling has been cracked at the Golden Arches. As announced on many media outlets including CNBC, the company will test market the McPlant burger at eight locations from Manhattan Beach, California to Jennings, Louisiana starting in early November.

The McPlant made its first appearance in some European markets earlier this year. It debuted at U.K. locations last month and at the latest count is available at 250 McDonald’s outlets across Britain.

The British press, which generally seems hell-bent on tearing just about anyone or anything apart, appears to be a fan – especially of the slice of cheese, as the challenge of melting vegan cheese still has a long way to go to win over foodies. “The vegan American cheese was particularly good. If you hadn’t told me it was vegan, I probably wouldn’t have known,” gushed one editor at the Independent.

According to McDonald’s, the McPlant was the result of three years of research. The burger includes a patty the company formulated in a partnership with Beyond Meat; vegan cheese that is pea-protein based; a vegan sauce; and the usual toppings such as lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mustard and ketchup. And unlike other restaurants, the Golden Arches insist the McPlant patties are cooked separately from other menu items, including with dedicated utensils.

If past is prologue, expect the McPlant to become a fixture, as so far the overall response to this plant-based burger is positive.

“Despite only being a small test, it marks a big jump forward in what has been a long and winding road for a plant-based McDonald's burger,” said one writer at Food & Wine.

The plant-based news here in the U.S. follows other McDonald’s announcements on the sustainability front, including a company-wide zero-emissions goal, and a plan by 2025 to eliminate virgin plastic from its Happy Meal toys.

Image credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye