McDonald's New Meatless Burger Is Aimed at a Different Kind of Eater: The Part-Time Vegan
By Grace Dobush, Fortune
June 6, 2019
Two carnivorous journalists walk into a McDonald’s—and order vegan hamburgers.
It sounds like a joke, but it’s all in the name of reporting. We’ve arrived at the McDonald’s in Berlin’s Zoo train station to taste-test the new Big Vegan, a plant-based burger meant to attract meat eaters here in the land of broiled bratwursts and sizzling schnitzel.
To outside observers, Germany is, perhaps, not an obvious market in which to pilot a vegan burger, but a new breed of eater is on the rise here: the flexitarian, an occasional vegetarian or vegan, whom McDonald’s has its sights on.
“Although the proportion of vegans in Germany is still relatively small, with the [Big Vegan] we are specifically picking up on the far-reaching trend of occasionally abstaining from animal products,” McDonald’s Germany spokesman Philipp Wachholz said in a statement. “This lets us offer more choices, and we are also convinced that our new vegan burger will meet the taste expectations of all McDonald’s lovers.”
Soy, wheat, beets
McDonald’s introduced the Big Vegan to Germany on April 29. An ad for the Big Vegan plays up the burger’s ethical and environmental appeal, showing a tree-occupying protester facing off against a man with a chainsaw, which references the recent occupation of the Hambach Forest in western Germany by activists. At €3.69 ($4.15), the Big Vegan is not as big as a Big Mac; it’s on par with a Quarter Pounder—without cheese. The soy and wheat patty, colored with beet juice to make it look juicy, is topped with coral leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles, plus the classic ketchup and mustard. It is a permanent addition to the menus of 1,500 restaurants across Germany, one of McDonald’s biggest international markets.
The Big Vegan is not McDonald’s first foray into vegan menu items. Since 2017, its restaurants in Sweden and Finland have served up the McVegan burger, a soy-based sandwich created with Swedish vegan food company Anamma. Finland also has the El Veggo, a salsa-flavored soy burger. In those Northern European countries, vegetarianism is more entrenched, as consumers shun meat due to high prices and concerns about climate change.
The Big Vegan’s launch in Germany, however, marks the first time McDonald’s has marketed an explicitly vegan burger in one of its “lead” international markets, a group that also includes Australia, Canada, France, and the U.K. Plus, it just so happened to occur as McDonald’s home market, the United States, dove face-first into meatless burger mania.
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