Earlier this month, McDonald’s added four new meatless products to its Netherlands range and, in a move to promote plant-forward food, listed them before beef on the menu. The new burgers, nuggets and salad join the Beyond Meat-based McPlant, which has been a permanent fixture on the fast-food chain’s Dutch menu since last year, after a successful trial the year before.
Two of the new products are limited-edition, while the other two are permanent. The former category contains the McPlant Steakhouse (a variation of the original McPlant with a “juice steakhouse taste”) and the Meatless McKroket, which is temporarily replacing the original McKroket and has seen its croquet recipe updated to feature jackfruit.
The new Veggie Nuggets and Veggie Chicken Honey Mustard Salad make up the permanent additions. None of these, however, are plant-based by default. The nuggets and salad both contain dairy and eggs, with the latter also having honey as an ingredient. The Meatless McKroket can be made vegan if ordered without the sauce, while the McPlant Steakhouse will be plant-based if you remove the cheese. (While the McPlant uses Beyond Meat, the new products’ supplier hasn’t been disclosed.)
McDonald’s promotes meatless
The new products coincide with a new campaign by McDonald’s, through which it aims to promote meatless and plant-based eating among its customers. It has reallocated its campaign budgets to support meat-free products more, and positioned these new products alongside chicken options first on the menu, followed by the conventional beef options. (Beef is the highest-emitting food on the planet.)
“At McDonald’s, we are constantly developing the menu,” Dolly van den Akker, impact director at McDonald’s Netherlands, told Duurzaam Ondernemen. “We listen to the wishes of our guests and are happy to take the lead in our sector. We do this by offering responsible choices, such as fruit and vegetables in the Happy Meal, but also by adding more variety to the menu offering.
“However, we know that our guests often have fixed preferences. With this campaign and new introductions, we want to challenge them to go for that unknown, meatless option. Which is really just as tasty.”
The move signposts McDonald’s strong plant-based performance in the EU. It test-launched the McPlant in Sweden and Denmark in 2021, before rolling out the vegan burger in the UK months later. It has taken this trial approach in most countries, including the US, where it initially gained popularity before sales stagnated. The test run in its home market ended in August 2022.
Across the Atlantic, however, the results are more positive. Its permanent UK launch was so successful that McDonald’s launched a Double McPlant this January, and in Germany, all stores now have the McPlant as well as vegan nuggets (also made using Beyond Meat). The Netherlands trial in 2021 saw the McPlant become a permanent menu item last October.
Plant-based fast food goes mainstream
The new product range is an important step for McDonald’s, the world’s largest food chain, as the fast-food sector aims to meet consumers’ plant-based demands. Burger King has been a leader in this space for some time now – it was recently revealed that one in five of its burgers sold in Germany is plant-based. And a nine-country report by ProVeg International found that Burger King tops the list of fast-food chains with the most plant-based options.
McDonald’s and Burger King – two giant rivals – also use different alt-meat competitors in their products. While Burger King uses Impossible Foods‘ plant-based meat in its meatless offerings in North America, it employs Unilever-owned The Vegetarian Butcher’s alt-meat elsewhere – and in the EU, its vegan bacon is provided by Parisian startup La Vie. Burger King’s meatless options are present in multiple countries internationally, including the UK, Austria, Spain, France, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia, among others.
McDonald’s was third on the list, following Subway. Only 9% of the restaurant’s menu was found to be vegan, with plant-based mains comprising only 3% of the total options and available only in the UK, Germany and South Africa (at the time). The report noted that McDonald’s has an opportunity to make its nearly plant-based options – some have dairy cheese and a ‘plant-based’ patty has animal products – vegan by default.
This extends to the new range in the Netherlands. McDonald’s already makes vegan nuggets in other countries, so could theoretically also introduce the same product in the Netherlands as well, helping it encourage Dutch consumers to change their dietary habits for the planet.
The Netherlands has the highest sales of alt-meat per capita of any European country, with more than 70% of its consumers supporting a shift towards a more plant-based diet. This could explain why the market share of vegan products increased from 1.4% in 2016 to 5.4% in 2021. Here, Subway leads the way in terms of the number of plant-based dishes, followed by Burger King. McDonald’s comes last – after Domino’s and KFC – given that most of its products aren’t vegan by default.
However, there are encouraging signs. McDonald’s new menu positioning follows one of the ProVeg report’s recommendations, which reads: “Integrate plant-based options with similar items and list them first, while repeating them in a separately labelled plant-based section. This will nudge consumers to choose more plant-based options while making it easier to navigate the menu.”
Whether it follows up with more default plant-based options remains to be seen.
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