People visit most fast-food chains — certainly, the big-three burger chains McDonald’s (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation Report, Restaurant Brands International’s (QSR) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc Report Burger King, and Wendy’s (WEN) – Get Wendy’s Company Report — largely for comfort food.
We want a Big Mac, Whopper, or Baconator because it makes us feel good (even if ultimately it doesn’t make us feel good physically).
Wendy’s has had some success with its seasonal salad and Burger King has kept the Impossible Whopper on its menu, but fast-food chains, at least these three, aren’t known for their healthy menu items.
That has not stopped them from trying. McDonald’s tried its short-lived salad shakers in 2000 and followed those with Premium Salads in 2003. And, other sort-of-healthy efforts like the McLean Deluxe, a vaguely healthier take on the Big Mac, did not connect with consumers.
But, McDonald’s sees the potential to reach customers it otherwise does not capture and it keeps trying to go healthy. That led to the creation of the McPLant, a plant-based take on the chain’s classic fare.
It seems like a good idea — so did the concept of selling salads — but new research suggests that customers may not agree.
What Is the McPlant?
Plant-based burgers have gained in popularity (relatively speaking) and Burger King brought them to the fast-food space with the Impossible Whopper. That chain has not commented much on the success or failure of that product, but it has remained on the menu since August 2019, despite being called a “limited-time” offer when it was released.
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McDonald’s rolled out McPlant, its take on a plant-based burger to 600 restaurants on a trial basis in February of 2022. That followed an eight-restaurant trial that began in November of 2021.
“The McPlant includes a plant-based* patty co-developed with Beyond Meat that’s exclusive to McDonald’s and made from plant-based ingredients like peas, rice, and potatoes. The patty is served on a sesame seed bun with tomato, lettuce, pickles, onions, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and a slice of American cheese. It has the iconic taste of a McDonald’s burger because it is one,” the company said in a press release.
It’s a very slow trial on a pretty limited basis which makes sense when you look at past efforts by the chain to offer healthier choices. McDonald’s clearly put effort into its partnership with Beyond Meat (BYND) – Get Beyond Meat, Inc. Report, but maybe customers don’t want healthier choices from McDonald’s (or maybe they don’t want t a plant-based burger that’s not vegan which gets cooked on the same grill as the traditional burgers).
The Early McPlant Numbers Aren’t Great
The McPlant has likely only been selling about 20 sandwiches per day in test markets in California and Texas, according to a report from BTIG analysts Peter Saleh and Ben Parente which Restaurant Dive first reported on.
That’s down from early test numbers and below expectations of 40-60 sandwiches sold per day. The initial sales test in eight stores produced about 70 sales per day, according to Restaurant Dive (that could have been driven by curiosity or people from outside the market seeking out the new sandwich).
“Our checks suggest that restaurants in the Dallas/Fort Worth and San Francisco Bay Area are selling about 20 McPlant sandwiches per day, while restaurants in more rural areas of East Texas are selling only 3-5 sandwiches per day,” Saleh and Parente wrote. “For McPlant to be more ubiquitous, the price point needs to be more competitive with traditional burgers, and the health and climate benefits need to have greater emphasis,” the report stated.
It’s also possible that the chain does nothing and simply lets interest die out or grow without any revised efforts.
McDonald’s has had more success with McPlant in the United Kingdom where it has rolled it out to all of its locations nationwide. The chain has a three-year deal with Beyond Meat and McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski made it clear during the chain’s third-quarter earnings call that it would take time to gauge success or failure in each market across the world.
“We’re going to let the markets decide when is the best time to pull it down based on what the customer acceptance are interested in this concept. I think, certainly, I can say at this point, there are definitely a couple of European markets where there is customer acceptance for it,” he said. “Whether that is a broad-based acceptance in the U.S., I think, we’ll learn that over the next several quarters.”