The “P.L.T.” marks the fast-food brand’s first foray into plant-based proteins.

By Maria Yagoda
September 26, 2019

 

McDonald’s is getting in on the plant-based protein movement—finally.

The fast-food giant tells Food & Wine that they are testing a brand-new sandwich featuring a plant-based patty. Called the P.L.T., it was developed in collaboration with Beyond Meat and will be available at 28 restaurants in Ontario, Canada, starting September 30. The sandwich will be sold for 12 weeks at the participating Canadian locations, allowing McDonald’s to assess whether they’ll make the item widely available.

“We know the news around plant-based burgers has driven a lot of interest—now we want to see what that demand is,” said Chris Young, senior director of global menu strategy at McDonald’s. “Equally as important is, given that demand, what is the impact on our kitchens? I think it’s important to understand how those two things work together, and from that we’ll have some very interesting data.”

Courtesy of McDonald's

Rather than adding the patty to an existing menu item, like the Big Mac, the brand decided to create a new sandwich so they could tailor the proportions and flavors to the patty. The P.L.T. still has all the ingredients that make up a classic McDonald’s burger: crunchy lettuce, soft bun, pickle coins, a hit of white onion, and that trifecta of mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup.

Robert Gibbs, executive vice president and chief communications officer, stressed that McDonald’s aimed to develop a sandwich that could deliver the plant-based patty in a way that was still “friendly and safe and comforting for people,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it was on something that people are familiar with.”

The question over when McDonald’s, if ever, would adopt a plant-based patty grew louder as competitors like White Castle, Carl’s Jr., and Burger King collaborated on meat-free menu items with companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat. Young said the lag time was intentional.

“We’ve been working on it for a while,” Young said. “It hasn’t been easy, because we wanted to make it delicious, more than anything, so we’ve taken the time.”

The patty consists of pea protein, rice protein, potato starch, and more ingredients that Beyond Meat uses in its blend. While it is meat free, it will be cooked on the same grills as hamburgers, meaning that the new sandwich isn’t being advertised as vegetarian. The P.L.T. is 460 calories.

I tried the sandwich on a recent visit to McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. The patty is satisfyingly chewy and flavorful, with the umami nutty twang of a Beyond Meat burger. It has the same mouthfeel as meat and sizzles like meat on the griddle, releasing juices around the edges as it chars.

In April, shortly after Burger King announced their Impossible Whopper, McDonald’s declined to comment on any plans they had to develop a plant-based burger. Beyond Meat, without sharing any specifics, seemed enthusiastic about fast-food collaborations in general. “With the expansion of our production capabilities, we're actively growing all channels including food service, retail and international, which currently sees distribution at more than 30,000 outlets,” said a spokesperson at the time.

Other fast-food restaurants that have collaborated with Beyond Meat include Carl’s Jr. and TGI Fridays, and Impossible Foods has developed patties for Burger King and White Castle. McDonald’s is now the biggest burger chain to offer a plant-based patty, though it’s currently limited to 28 locations in Southwestern Ontario. If the test goes well, that will change.

“We want to know who wants it, and why,” Young said. “The truth is—we think there’s probably a bunch of different reasons, and a bunch of different folks that will come in to try it. I think they’ll be—I’ll hope they’ll be—pleasantly surprised by what they get.”

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