Is a vegan Big Mac on its way to U.S. McDonald’s locations? If a recent partnership between Bay Area vegan meat startup Impossible Foods and one of the fast-food giant’s leading suppliers is any indicator, all signs point to yes.
Impossible is now working with OSI Group — a McDonald’s meat supplier for more than sixty years. OSI is helping Impossible increase its production capacity, something that’s been an issue since it launched in Burger King in April. Demand was so high that Impossible was unable to fulfill orders for other fast-food chains including Red Robin and White Castle. That partnership, Peter Economy writes for Inc. magazine, “would seem to indicate that McDonald’s is making plans to introduce its own meatless burger in the company’s U.S.-based restaurants–likely within the next year or so.”
These developments do indeed take time. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — the two leaders in the vegan burger category — spent years in research and development mode toying with amino acids and proteins, isolates of beets and soy roots to create the “bleeding” iron-like experience found in ground beef.
Vegan options are already on the menus at McDonald’s locations around the world – its McVegan burger has been a runaway hit in Finland and Sweden where it launched in 2017. The chain also launched vegan goujons in UK locations both for adult and kids meals. It recently brought a vegan sandwich to Israeli locations. And wherever it launches vegan options, the customers respond. It’s not just attracting vegan customers. The most viability for vegan options comes from meat-eaters. Like dairy drinkers, meat-eaters are now diversifying their protein options. Swapping in plants more than ever before. This year alone more than 216 million vegan burgers were consumed by meat-eaters. And that number shows no sign of slowing.
And while major fast-food chains including its chief U.S. rival Burger King have added vegan meat options, the nation’s most iconic burger chain has yet to offer its American customers a valid vegan option — even McDonald’s fries in the U.S. are made with beef flavoring.
The Vegan Burger Revolution
But that could all be changing soon.
“By early next year, you will likely see a plant-based burger test in the U.S.,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said.
A recent petition urging the chain to add a vegan burger option garnered more than 225,000 signatures.
But it’s not just appeasing customer palates that may shift the burger giant toward a plant-based offering. The motive may be driven purely by profit. Chains that have added vegan meat options – Burger King, A&W and Tim Hortons in Canada, and most recently, Dunkin’ in the U.S. – are seeing powerful market responses to the options. Stores are selling out days’ worth of inventory in just a few hours. Burger King locations that added the Impossible Whopper featuring the vegan meat patty saw sales spike by nearly 20 percent.
A vegan burger at McDonald’s would be a major milestone for the chain as well as the country’s tenuous relationship with vegan meat. The beef industry(and other animal-based industries) has pushed back against the growing demand for vegan food. Several states have made it unlawful to use terms like “burger” to describe a meatless patty. But a nod from McDonald’s would send ripples across the country.
Food preferences are changing. Brands are staying relevant by empowering their consumers with those choices. McDonald’s has been battling declining sales for years with one failed attempt after another to attract new customers. Looks like it may have finally found a Happy Meal that’ll SuperSize profits, too.