McDonald’s McPlant is apparently not selling as well as expected

An analyst with BTIG suggested the Beyond Meat plant-based burger isn’t meeting expectations, but it is selling particularly poorly in rural areas.
McDonald's McPlant test
Photo courtesy of McDonald's

If early results from the McDonald’s plant-based burger test are any indication, a broad U.S. introduction of the McPlant may be further off than initially anticipated.

That, at least, is based on a report from an analyst with BTIG, Peter Saleh, who in a note on Wednesday said that channel checks indicate that the burger, made with Beyond Meat, is not selling as well as franchisees expect in test markets in California and Texas.

According to Saleh, operators are selling about 20 McPlant burgers a day in the Dallas and San Francisco markets.

Yet restaurants in rural areas of East Texas are only selling three to five sandwiches per day.

By contrast, Saleh wrote, early tests of the McPlant in eight locations sold about 70 per day, enough to warrant the expanded test McDonald’s officially announced in January.

“Franchisee sentiment is that these figures don’t leave franchisees outside the test markets clamoring for the product and are not enough to warrant a national rollout,” Saleh wrote. Yet, he added, McDonald’s “may continue to test and even offer McPlant in higher-income, urban markets that appear more receptive to plant-based meat offerings, but a wide-scale launch seems a ways off at this point.”

Saleh was the analyst who said in December that McDonald’s would likely expand its McPlant test, something it did just a few weeks later. The company has been testing the product in about 600 locations since Valentine’s Day.

McDonald’s McPlant was unveiled as a product in 2020 and has since been introduced in a number of global markets, particularly in Europe where plant-based meat is in strong demand. The burger is made in partnership with Beyond Meat.

The company’s potential introduction of the product in the U.S. is being closely watched because of McDonald’s immense size and its potential influence on overall acceptance for plant-based meat products.

Several chains have tried plant-based meat products. Notably, White Castle debuted the Impossible Slider and in 2019 McDonald’s rival Burger King briefly generated strong sales with its Impossible Whopper. Earlier this year, meanwhile, the chicken chain KFC introduced Beyond Chicken. Numerous small and regional chains have plant-based meat on their menus.

Yet a few large chains have tried and then dropped plant-based meat items, including Tim Hortons in Canada and Dunkin’.

McDonald’s introduction would put the product on a different level, adding the product to the menu of the country’s biggest restaurant chain.

Saleh’s note follows some reports from McDonald’s earlier test of a plant-based burger in Canada, where the product sold well in urban areas but less well in rural areas where there is a lower acceptance of plant-based meat.

The results likely do little to assuage concerns about whether the company’s broad base of customers would order enough of the burger in enough markets to warrant adding complexity to the kitchen and potentially slowing service, particularly given labor and other challenges. It’s worth noting that Saleh suggested that the product has slowed service times, a major consideration. The McPlant is made to order.

McDonald’s has 13,500 locations, more than all but two restaurant chains in the U.S., and a far broader base of customers than anyone else. While it has plenty of locations in urban areas it is omnipresent in suburbs and along interstates through rural areas—where plant-based meat doesn’t necessarily play that well.

That said, the Chicago-based burger giant—along with Beyond Meat—has invested a lot into the burger and clearly expects there to be long-term demand for such a product. So it’s not as if the thing will go away.

“We expect both McDonald’s and Beyond Meat to continue to tweak the product and messaging to drive broader acceptance,” he wrote, noting that work on the product would continue. “Our conversations definitely temper any expectations for a national launch.”

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