Honestly, the name is fantastic: “McPlant.” Just saying it feels like taking a bite out of something. Let’s hope whichever midlevel marketing executive blurted it out into a Chicago conference room got a super-size bonus.
The name is one of the many things that probably would not have been possible had McDonald’s gone with a third-party supplier like Beyond Meat for its cow-free protein. The decision to keep its veggie-forward products in-house, announced last week, is certainly an anomaly in the fast-food world. Beyond Meat has packed in licensing deals with a crowd of chains, most notably Dunkin’ and Tim Hortons. Impossible Foods, a rival, has its meat-esque wares in thousands as well, including Burger King.
McDonald’s was the big prize in the burger wars and it quietly just left the battlefield.
Beyond Meat was close. It ran a pilot with the Golden Arches early this year, including the “PLT” – plant, lettuce and tomato (again with the great names!). And last week, it said it has a role in the McPlant push, though it was scant on the details. “It’s really up to them to say the extent of that,” CEO Ethan Brown told investors and analysts. No doubt McDonald’s scientists have been secretly messing around with beet juice and pea protein all along.
Sure, Beyond Meat spent a decade coming up with its proprietary “woven protein,” breaking down plants to the mineral level. But suggesting the McDonald’s lab can’t cook up a decent plant patty is like saying Boeing engineers would be stumped by some weird new plane. In truth, Big Meat is all-in on making its own Beyond proxy, everyone from Conagra to Cargill to Hormel.
And McDonald’s has never been keen on licensing fees; the soda dispenser is one of the few places in the company where one finds brand names. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, is getting one in four revenue dollars, from Dunkin’ and other resellers stocking its products.
McDonald’s is planning to start testing a full line of plant pucks next year, including burgers, “chicken” nuggets and breakfast patties. Truthfully, the company’s supply chain savants may have had more say in the decision than its chefs. McDonald’s can’t afford the kind of growth pains Beyond Meat and Impossible have dealt with as they scaled up and started shipping product to a range of restaurants. What’s more, it doesn’t want to get in a bidding war with a company like Dunkin’ for the next truck full of sort-of sausages. And when it goes to buy pea protein or any other bulk ingredient, McDonald’s probably gets a better deal than Beyond.
And let’s be frank, the McPlant doesn’t have to taste incredible. There are scads of fast-food shops selling more celebrated burgers – from In N’ Out to Shake Shack — but that hasn’t dented the Golden Arches. Tasty excellence, in this case, is far less important than ubiquity, consistency and supply-chain certainty.
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