McDonald’s puts Beyond Meat on the menu

A handful of Ontario restaurants will be the first to test demand for an exclusive plant-based burger.

McDonald’s is beginning its first venture in the plant-based burger category, looking to some of its locations in Ontario to test a specially crafted version of a Beyond Meat burger.

The “PLT” (plants, lettuce and tomato) is made with a burger patty developed by and for McDonald’s, in partnership with Beyond Meat. It is served on the same bun as its Quarter Pounder sandwich, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard, “mayo-style sauce” and a slice of processed cheese.

Beginning on Sept. 30, the PLT will be available at 28 restaurants in and around the Ontario towns of London, Sarnia and Woodstock for 12 weeks, the first locations to make it available globally. In an email to strategy, a McDonald’s spokesperson said the test will allow it to “learn what customers love about the PLT to help inform our global markets about customer expectations and preferences, while understanding the impact to our restaurant operations.” It will then use its observations during the test to inform future plant-based menu decisions in Canada and globally.

Like other QSRs that have added plant-based options to their menus, the product is not meant to target vegan customers – the “mayo-style sauce” and cheese on the burger are not vegan-friendly, and the QSR’s website states that the burgers will be cooked on the same grill as other burgers, meat-based products and eggs. Rather, it is an attempt to give options to “flexitarians” looking to incorporate more plant-based meals into their diets.

While some flexitarians have been cutting back on meat because of concerns over the impact that livestock farming has on the environment, others are doing it for health reasons, although there have recently been doubts that products meant to imitate the taste and texture of meat may not be the best course of action for doing so. With the bun and all of its toppings, each PLT has 460 calories, 25 g of fat, 42 g of carbohydrates, 17 g of protein and 920 mg of sodium. To compare, the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese has 520 calories, 26 g of fat, 41g of carbohydrates, 30 g of protein and 1080 mg of sodium.

A&W’s launch of the Beyond Meat burger last year resulted in it selling out across most of its locations, and as a result, many brands in the QSR category rushed to add their own plant-based alternatives to their menus, either from Beyond Meat or Maple Leaf Foods-owned Lightlife. Last week, Tim Hortons announced that it would be removing the Beyond Meat burger from its menu nationally, though its Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich would continue to be available at locations in British Columbia and Ontario due to a “positive reaction.” A recent Angus Reid survey also found that while awareness for plant-based meat alternatives was high among Canadians, trial was relatively low.

When asked why the brand is late (compared to its competitors) in testing the plant-based category, the spokesperson said that it has “been working on our recipe and now we’re ready to hear from our customers and see how it works within our restaurants.” The release announcing the test also said the burger patty was crafted “to deliver the iconic McDonald’s taste customers know and love.”

A recent ad campaign promoted improvements that McDonald’s had made to its classic burgers like the Quarter Pounder and Big Mac, while reinforcing the fact that its food was sourced from Canadian farms, a major part of the QSR’s brand positioning in recent years. At the time, Nicola Pitman, director of menu innovation and management at McDonald’s Canada, told strategy that the QSR was always “looking at trends and what we’re seeing in the market” to guide new product innovation.

“The PLT complements our existing line-up of craveable burgers and sandwiches, and enables us to assess Canadian’s growing demand for plant-based protein options as well as restaurant experience,” said Michaela Charette, head of consumer insights at McDonald’s Canada, in a release. “During this test we’ll continue to listen to our guests to understand their tastes.”