By Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press
More than a year after A&W became the first Canadian fast-food chain to sell the Beyond Meat burger, McDonald’s Canada is set to roll out a limited pilot of the plant-based patty to test its customer’s appetite for vegetarian eats.
“We know we’re not first,” Michaela Charette, the company’s head of consumer insights, said in an interview. “We’ve been taking our time to get it right.”
McDonald’s will start serving a PLT sandwich — plant, lettuce and tomato — at 28 restaurants in southwestern Ontario, including locations in London and Sarnia, on Monday.
The item’s main component is a Beyond Meat patty that will taste different than those on offer at other fast-food chains in Canada. Beyond Meat usually works with retailers to create a unique taste for their target demographic.
The trial is intended to be a global test, meaning McDonald’s could roll out the PLT in all of its markets, which span more than 100 countries.
Charette and chef Jeff Anderson, both of McDonald’s Canada, were tight-lipped on what specific metrics the company needs to see to roll out the PLT globally.
McDonald’s will collect consumer feedback on taste, track demand for the new menu item and watch to see if its preparation impacts restaurant operations.
It will also be looking to for data on whether vegans and vegetarians buy the burger, versus people who also consume meat, Charette said.
This isn’t the first time McDonald’s Canada has put veggie burgers on the menu.
It last introduced one — the McVeggie Deluxe — in June 2002. The restaurant pulled the soy-based patty sandwich from the menu “due to softer sales” in 2005, a spokeswoman wrote in an email.
The company believes more than a decade later, its customers are ready to embrace a vegetarian option.
“Our guests and consumers, their taste palates, their preferences change,” Anderson said.
The pilot will help the company understand if their customers do, in fact, want a Beyond Meat option.
Demand does appear to be shifting in Canada toward more plant-based protein, due to a combination of financial, environmental, humanitarian and health reasons. Canada’s new food guide, released earlier this year, encourages people to eat more plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts and tofu, over meat.
In response, eateries and manufacturers increasingly offer vegetarian options.
A&W first introduced Beyond Meat patties in early 2018, setting off a ripple effect in the fast-food industry. Since then, Subway Restaurants announced a Beyond Meatball marinara sub would come to select Canadian locations this September for a limited time. Vancouver-based White Spot Restaurants started serving Beyond Meat burgers, while Quesada Burritos & Tacos offered up a Beyond Meat burrito — just to name a few.
On the manufacturing side, Maple Leaf Foods acquired two alternative protein makers, Lightlife Foods and Field Roast Grain Meat Co., in recent history. Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain defended Lightlife’s vegetarian burger during a recent quarterly earnings call with analysts, saying it will be more widely distributed than Beyond Meat’s products.
The move to plant-based protein hasn’t worked out for all, however.
Restaurant Brands International added Beyond Meat burgers and breakfast sandwiches across Canada some three months ago, before deciding to remove the burgers nationally and breakfast sandwiches everywhere but Ontario and B.C. earlier this month. The decision was apparently made based on sales volumes.