Why McDonald’s has been slow to adopt meatless meat

The next big challenge for the plant-based meat industry is scale.


By Kelsey Piper, Vox

Jan 9, 2020


One step forward, one step back for meatless meat.


On Wednesday, McDonald’s announced that it would expand its Canadian trial of plant-based Beyond Burgers, offering them at 52 more restaurants in Ontario for the next three months starting January 14. This is an expansion of their P.L.T. (Plant, Lettuce, Tomato) Canadian trial run this fall, though it’s a very conservative expansion, encompassing only a few dozen more restaurants.


That announcement came after Reuters reported that competitor Impossible Foods has stopped vying to sell its burgers at the world’s biggest fast-food chain — because they can’t yet produce enough burgers to meet demand. (There had previously been talks between Impossible Foods and McDonald’s, and speculation about a deal for plant-based burgers.)


“I wish we had vastly more capacity than we do right now because the demand is high,” Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown told Reuters. But with their current capacity to make burgers, “it would be stupid for us to be vying for them right now. ... If McDonald’s said they wanted us to be in all the restaurants, we’d have to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t do it. ... Having more big customers right now doesn’t do us any good until we scale up production.”


Capacity is likely to be a challenge for Beyond Meat too, according to analysts. “If McDonald’s decides to roll out the Beyond P.L.T., we believe that Beyond Meat may need to roll out on a regional basis at first and will likely be in a good position to fully supply McDonald’s nationwide in a year to 18 months from a capacity perspective,” analyst Alexia Howard said. While advocates of plant-based meat see McDonald’s as a huge, critical step forward for the product, it might not be a step meatless meat companies are fully ready to take.


The week’s events are a sobering reminder that for all the exciting product launches and customer interest in plant-based foods, the dreamed-of transformation of our food system won’t happen until we get a lot better at making them at the extraordinary volumes that global consumers of meat demand. And right now, plant-based meat is still a sliver of the meat market, a long way from having the means to supply everyone who currently eats meat.


When will plant-based burgers be big enough to make a difference? ...


The struggle to scale up will be a real issue for plant-based foods ... 


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