McDonald’s Canada is piloting plant-based patties. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

McDonald’s launches global Beyond Meat burger test in 28 Ont. restaurants

More than a year after A&W became the first Canadian fast-food chain to sell the now ubiquitous Beyond Meat burgers, McDonald’s Canada will roll out a limited pilot of the plant-based patty to test its customer’s appetite for vegetarian eats.

“We’ve been taking our time to get it right,” Michaela Charette, the company’s head of consumer insights, said in an interview.

“We know we’re not first.”

McDonald’s will start serving a P.L.T. sandwich at 28 restaurants in southwestern Ontario, including locations in London and Sarnia, on Monday. The acronym stands for plant, lettuce and tomato — a take on the BLT or bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. It will cost $6.49.

The menu item’s main component is a Beyond Meat patty that will taste different from the ones customers can eat at other fast-food chains in Canada. Beyond Meat usually works with retailers to create a unique taste for their target demographic, as it did with McDonald’s for this 12-week pilot.

The trial is intended to be a global test, meaning McDonald’s could roll out the P.L.T. in all of its markets, which span more than 100 countries.

Charette and chef Jeff Anderson, both staff that McDonald’s Canada, were tight-lipped on what specific metrics the company needs to see to roll out the P.L.T. globally.

McDonald’s will collect consumer feedback on taste, track demand for the new menu item and watch whether its preparation impacts restaurant operations.

It will also be looking to answer whether it’s primarily vegan and vegetarian customers, or people who consume meat as well who buy the burger, Charette said.

After the 12-week pilot, it’s unclear if company will expand the number of restaurants serving P.L.T.s immediately or after a hiatus.

“It’s too early to know,” said Anderson of the next steps, adding the company needs to gather some results from the pilot before making a decision.

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s Canada served up veggie burgers.

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 palettes, 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 toward incorporating more plant-based protein into their diets for 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 that of competitor Beyond Meat.

The move to plant-based hasn’t worked out for all, though.

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.

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