CHICAGO — McDonald’s is weighing whether to jump on the plant-based bandwagon, as Burger King prepares to roll out meatless Whoppers nationwide.
“Our menu teams are clearly paying close attention to it,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said Tuesday. “The key for us is to identify sustaining consumer trends.”
The world’s biggest burger chain — with 14,000 U.S. restaurants and 38,000 worldwide — is considering whether the complexities associated with rolling out a plant-based burger are worth it, said Easterbrook, during a call with analysts to discuss the company’s first-quarter earnings.
“There may be more to come but nothing much to say about it in the moment,” Easterbrook said.
Many of McDonald’s fast-food competitors have decided to take the gamble.
After launching a test run in St. Louis just last month, Burger King on Monday announced plans to offer Impossible Whoppers at all U.S. restaurants by the end of 2019.
White Castle offers meatless sliders using burgers from Impossible Foods, and Carl’s Jr. offers plant-based patties from Beyond Meat.
Taco Bell in April started testing meatless versions of some of its classics, such as a Vegetarian Crunchwrap Supreme and a Vegetarian Quesarito.
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Plant-based burgers are no longer just the purview of vegetarians and vegans as more consumers try to cut back on meat.
Still, it isn’t surprising that Chicago-based McDonald’s is waiting to ensure the plant-based trend has staying power before jumping in, given the chain’s global scope and diverse customer base, said Zak Weston, food service analyst at the Good Food Institute, a not-for-profit think tank that promotes protein alternatives.
But “it would shock me if they don’t have something on the menu in the next 18 months,” Weston said.
Yet Bob Goldin, co-founder and partner at Chicago-based food industry consultancy Pentallect, said he wonders if the mania around plant-based proteins is a flash in the pan.
“This is ‘monkey see, monkey do’ right now,” Goldin said. “I think this thing has a shorter shelf life than we think.”