/McDonald’s has finally cooked up a Beyond Meat burger — and Ontario is its global testing ground

McDonald’s has finally cooked up a Beyond Meat burger — and Ontario is its global testing ground

McDonald’s Inc. is preparing to launch a Beyond Meat sandwich and it will conduct its first global test of the landmark offering in a patch of cities and towns in Southwestern Ontario.

The announcement, expected Thursday morning, ends months of speculation as to when the iconic fast-food giant would join the plant-based bandwagon.

McDonald’s is calling the product a PLT — plant, lettuce and tomato — a play on the BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) although the PLT will also include two pickles, slivered onions, cheese, mustard, ketchup, “mayo-style sauce” and the same bun used for Quarter Pounder burgers. It’ll be the same price as a Quarter Pounder, too: $6.49 plus tax.

The burger will be available for 12 weeks, in 28 stores in and around London, Ont., starting on Sept. 30.

Plans for the launch have been shrouded in secrecy.

During a preview presentation for the Financial Post at McDonald’s Canadian office in Toronto earlier this month, the test kitchen — which operates as a functioning McDonald’s restaurant for the 363 staff at the Canadian office — was closed while Jeff Anderson, a senior manager in culinary innovation known around the Toronto headquarters as Chef Jeff, prepared PLTs.

Many employees at the office still didn’t know about the new product, and the few who did were worried about leaks.

“It’s a pretty tight group,” said Michaela Charette, head of consumer insights for McDonald’s Canada.

A diagram of the PLT, taped up in the test kitchen, was labeled “Project Dune Ops Test” but was later removed by a staff member.

McDonald’s officials would not explain the code name.

The sandwich was developed at McDonald’s global headquarters in Chicago, with the Canadian operation only responsible for the rolling out the test in the London, Ont., region.

Head office picked Southwestern Ontario because it more or less looks like a North American every town — or in the parlance of one McDonald’s spokesman, because it has “geographic and representative spreads that we can take and measure against other demographics.”

Charette added that other draws were the Canadian market’s diversity, and its familiarity with plant-based products.

Jeff Anderson, culinary innovation senior manager at McDonald’s Canada shows the new PLT veggie burger at the companies head offices in Toronto.

Peter J Thompson

More than a year ago, A&W Canada stirred up interest in plant-based products after the launch of its own Beyond Meat sandwich — a major milestone for Beyond Meat, which until that point had yet to launch with a large fast-food chain. Since then, Beyond Meat has vaulted the meat substitute industry into the global spotlight, with its explosive stock market debut and a series of product launches with major chains.

McDonald’s wouldn’t say how long it’s been working on developing the patty with the Los Angeles-based company. In recent months, the absence of a plant-based option on the McDonald’s menu was starting to raise eyebrows, since a slew of competing fast-food chains — A&W, Burger King, even Tim Hortons — had experimented with versions of their own.

“I guess I’m curious,” JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman said on a call with Beyond Meat’s executives following the company’s quarterly report in July.

“Does it surprise you at this point — with so much evidence that consumers are willing to pay for this … that at least one of those huge (quick-service restaurants) is still on the sideline?”

Beyond Meat’s chief financial officer, Mark Nelson, stuck up for the unnamed fast-food giant.

“I do think it’s a function of just the size and complexity of some of the largest, most global QSRs out there,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to figure out how to integrate into their menu in their operations.”

Michael Gonda, McDonald’s vice president of global communications, told the Financial Post that the menu team worked with the Beyond Meat team to develop the patty recipe, with seasoning that delivered a “very iconic taste.”

“That takes a tremendous amount of effort, to create something with specialness,” he said. “We’ve created something that’s exclusively by us and for us. And that takes a lot of time.”

The Beyond Meat patties will each be cooked 120 seconds on the restaurants’ clamshell grills — the same grills McDonald’s uses to grill beef burgers, chicken and eggs.

We’ve created something that’s exclusively by us and for us. And that takes a lot of time

Michael Gonda, McDonald’s vice president of global communications

Gonda said McDonald’s is being intentionally transparent about that fact during the test, to elicit feedback and get a sense of whether it will impact the sandwich’s appeal to vegetarians.

“That’s a lot of what this test allows us to understand,” he said.

The burger will be sold in London, Aylmer, Exeter, Ingersoll, Sarnia, St. Thomas, Strathroy, Tillsonburg and Woodstock. McDonald’s said it didn’t have plans for a larger rollout, since that will be dependent on the results of the Southwestern Ontario test.

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