Analysts expect a broader test of McDonald’s McPlant burger next year

The plant-based sandwich is apparently performing well in a limited, eight-store test. But it could still be some time before the product appears on nationwide menus.

McDonald’s plant-based McPlant burger is selling well enough in a limited operations test to warrant a broader rollout next year.

That, at least, is according to BTIG Analyst Peter Saleh, who said in a note on Tuesday that channel checks suggest the product is performing well at the eight restaurants where it is being tested.

He expects that the burger will make a broader debut as a limited-time offer at several hundred restaurants some time in the first three months of the year. “Our conversations indicated the McPlant test performed exceptionally well in its handful of locations, with very limited operational challenges,” Saleh wrote. He said some of the restaurants are selling about 70 McPlant burgers per day.

That doesn’t mean everybody will be getting a McPlant next year. That, he wrote, may not come until 2023. And a national rollout would only be decided upon after data from the broader test is considered early next year.

“We believe the market test of McPlant will launch as a six-to-eight week limited-time offer in several markets, garnering advertising support from both McDonald’s (and its franchisees) as well as Beyond Meat,” Saleh said. He expects that the offer would take place in February or March.

McDonald’s has been testing its McPlant with Beyond Meat since Nov. 3 at eight locations. A broader market test has seemed inevitable. At the time of the announcement, the company said that, “You’ll have to stay tuned for future McPlant availability updates coming out of our tests.” McDonald’s announced the creation of the plant-based burger platform in 2000 and several countries are either testing or selling it.

But taking McPlant from an eight-store test to a nationwide product launch is a much bigger task. For instance, the company started market tests of its Crispy Chicken Sandwich in Houston and Knoxville in December 2019, a full 15 months before the product was rolled out on a national basis.

McDonald’s operates 13,800 locations in the U.S. And the McPlant represents a new style of patty for the chain, making for more operations issues than a typical product. Labor challenges also come into play, given that the company—not to mention many of its rivals—are leery of adding more operational complexity at a time when many operators are struggling to hire and retain enough staff.

Still, the prospect of McDonald’s offering a plant-based burger national would take the fast-food veggie burger movement to an entirely new level. Rival Burger King has had some success with its Impossible Whopper, while White Castle has had some success with its Impossible Slider. Other chains, including Dunkin’ and Starbucks, have also offered plant-based sandwiches with varying degrees of success.

McDonald's McPlant

None of them are as big as McDonald’s, which can have a massive influence on a single menu trend by simply adding it to its menu. There has long been hopeful speculation on the part of plant-based meat enthusiasts that the company would jump on the bandwagon simply because of its reach.

At the same time, it remains uncertain whether there is enough true demand among the chain’s core customers to warrant such a national rollout.

Saleh said that early sales of the McPlant at the eight restaurants are “very healthy” despite a lack of advertising support—though early sales, especially of a product with curiosity attached to it, can be more popular than they would be on a broader basis.

That would clearly come into play at McDonald’s, which has a presence in dense urban areas where a plant-based burger might do well, along with rural areas where it might not do so hot. So sales of the product could vary greatly depending simply on the location’s address.

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