McDonald’s Canada is still lovin’ burgers made from beef

As the competition embraces plant-based burgers, the QSR's new campaign focuses on its meat-based classics.

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To keep up affinity for its most iconic menu items, McDonald’s Canada has zigged into beef when many of it rivals have zagged into Beyond Meat.

The QSR’s new “Classics Remastered” campaign features images of cows in a field and Mounties playing hockey on a frozen pond, interspersed with close-ups of menu items like the McDouble, Big Mac and Quarter Pounder. While the campaign is promoting the fact that its burgers are “hotter, juicier and tastier,” the copy also focuses on the beef the burgers are made from and the fact that they are “made with 100% Canadian beef (as always).”

Ultimately, the goal of the campaign – created by AOR Cossette and runs in Canada until Sept. 9 – was to promote tweaks made to the menu “classics” like the Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double Cheeseburger, McDouble, Big Mac and Quarter Pounder and “to continue to help people fall back in love with us and help drive core burger sales,” says Nicola Pitman, director of menu innovation and management at McDonald’s Canada. A global initiative, the QSR cooks burgers in smaller batches for hotter and juicier beef, changed its bun recipe, added onions directly to burgers to intensify flavour, added extra sauce to the Big Mac and changed its storage systems for fresher produce.

But the campaign comes as the popularity of plant-based meat alternatives has driven many of McDonald’s Canada’s rivals to bring the trendy burger and other meat alternatives from Beyond Meat to their menus, including A&W Canada, Tim Hortons and Subway.

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In May, McDonald’s global CEO, Steve Easterbrook, told CNBC while he wasn’t completely ruling out adding plant-based meat alternatives to the QSR’s menus, he wasn’t committing to anything either. Pitman echoed the company line in an interview with strategy last week, saying: “We’re always looking at our menu opportunities and we’re looking at trends and what we’re seeing in the market at the moment, so this is just an opportunity to look at the market and to continue the evolution of our beef journey that we’ve been on in the last couple of years.”

McDonald’s may prove prescient in taking a wait-and-see approach as a recent Angus Reid survey of Canadians found that while awareness of products like Beyond Meat is very high, trial has lagged far behind. Whether plant-based meat alternatives are here to stay at Canadian QSRs remains to be seen, but the survey also found that 45% said they think plant-based meat alternatives are a fad that will fade with time and 55% think Canadians will “be eating more and more” in the years to come.

McDonald’s Canada, at least for now, is doubling down on promoting its use of 100% Canadian beef, which it has already been doing for years. The beef-heavy visuals in this current campaign also underline its commitment to sustainably sourcing the meat it uses in its burgers.

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The campaign kicked-off in Canada on Aug. 6 with three TV spots, as well as social media content and OOH ads featuring close-up shots of the McDonald’s most recognizable burgers. There are also in-store promotions, as well as educational pamphlets given to staff so they would be prepared when people who had seen the campaign came in and asked exactly how the classic burgers were “hotter, juicier and tastier,” explains Jon Frier, ECD at Cossette. McDonald’s also recently ran a one-day $3 Big Mac promotion to encourage Canadians to re-try the classic burger and taste the changes for themselves.

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On McDonald’s Canada’s Twitter account, a short video promoting the remastered classics got more than 22,000 views since being posted on Aug. 14, but reactions were mixed in the comments. While there were few decrying the promotion of meat, several commenters were upset over the bun. The reactions ran the gamut from “Yum” to a person asking: “Did you guys not learn any lesson from New Coke?” But Pitman says the reaction overall has been positive and whenever classic menu options are altered, even slightly, there are always going to be a few dissenters, particularly on social media.

The “Classics Remastered” project was led from Canada, launching here and in Australia this summer. It is expected to expand to other global markets down the road, adds Pitman.

“We’ve had a great reaction, people who are getting out and getting that real experience are really recognizing the hotter, juicier, tastier products… they are truly seeing that experience once they get those products,” says Pitman.