In a Q&A, Carlotte Lucas gives us the lowdown on why she thinks the McPlant will be a hit and that plant-based and other sustainable protein options are a trend that is here to stay.
Earlier this month McDonald's announced a new partnership with Beyond Meat, teaming up on the fast-food chain’s debut plant-based burger.
The plant-based burger features a vegan sesame bun, ketchup, mustard, and vegan sauce and also includes onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and bespoke vegan cheese. It is initially being trialled in a number of select restaurants in the UK.
Here Carlotte Lucas, corporate engagement manager, the Good Food Institute, Europe, gives her take.
1) How confident are you that lots of people will go to McDonald’s and try the McPlant? Won’t they go to McDonald’s and order a traditional meat burger?
Lucas: "If previous plant-based launches by other fast-food outlets like Burger King and KFC have demonstrated anything, it's that people will race to McDonald's to be the first to try the McPlant.
"Forty per cent of global consumers today consider themselves flexitarians, actively trying to reduce their meat intake for ethical, sustainable or health reasons, and while the McPlant may not be their first choice every time, the important thing is that consumers are being given options to choose a meal that aligns with their values and priorities that day."
2) Is McDonald’s not late to the party? The likes of Greggs and Burger King have already launched similar offerings.
Lucas: "While McDonald’s is hardly the first restaurant chain to launch a plant-based meat option, it is the biggest. McDonald's does not make these decisions lightly, and they have conducted significant consumer testing in numerous markets including Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
"These trials have given them the insights necessary to roll out a product they feel confident will meet consumer expectations, and time to build out a reliable supply chain, which is key as plant-based demand has largely been outpacing supply."
3) How important is it that the McPlant will be cooked on a different grill to its traditional burgers?
Lucas: "To reduce meat consumption to the levels necessary to meet our climate goals, we need to be focusing on bringing along the largest population groups that will have the biggest impact with their transition.
"McDonald's decision to cook the McPlant on a different grill to its traditional burger demonstrates a desire to be inclusive to all consumer groups – flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans. But with forty per cent of global consumers today considering themselves flexitarians – actively trying to reduce their meat intake for ethical, sustainable or health reasons – I expect there would have been a huge market for the McPlant either way."
4) Do you think more fast-food outlets will follow McDonald’s and offer more plant-based and other alternative protein options?
Lucas: "There is no doubt left within the food industry that plant-based and other sustainable protein options are a trend that is here to stay. McDonald's creation of a new item with the iconic ‘Mc’ branding demonstrates that they see real and sustained demand for plant-based options.
"We have seen numerous other large foodservice establishments, like Burger King UK and Compass, already announce that they plan to make a significant portion of their menu (40-50 per cent) plant-based by 2030. Ultimately, fast-food outlets want to provide consumers with the products they're asking for, and the demand for plant-based options is only continuing to grow."
5) Have fast-food companies, and big, household brands, done enough to broaden their offerings to offer healthier options?
Lucas: "By offering consumers plant-based options, fast-food companies and big household brands are already taking an important step in providing consumers with healthier options.
"When you compare plant-based meat to conventional meat, studies show plant-based meat tends to be lower in saturated fats, has no cholesterol, and contains essential dietary fibers that animal products lack.
"Nevertheless, we are still at the very forefront of the plant-based industry, and as companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods start to reach taste parity with conventional meat, their focus is expanding to develop healthier products, like Beyond Burger's latest patty which contains 35 per cent less fat."