When will Fast Food Inc. make up its mind about plant-based meat?
Commentary: McDonald's and Jack in the Box are the latest fast-food chains to test the plant-based burgers, which are already popular in American kitchens.
Brian CooleyEditor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
ExpertiseAutomotive technology, smart home, digital health.Credentials
Taste, nutrition and cost are key to the growth of plant-based meat -- but acceptability is just as important. The X factor in many consumer decisions is: "What's everyone else doing?" Two recent burger announcements involving Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat show that fast food is waiting for that moment and also driving it.
Jack in the Box is now testing the Impossible Burger, allowing customers to swap that meatless beef patty into any burger the chain offers at a cost of up to $1.50 more. But that option's only available at participating locations in Phoenix through mid-December.
Most fast-food brands offer plant-based meat via a specific menu item, like Burger King's Impossible Whopper. Allowing it as a universal option for any burger on Jack in the Box's menu is an incremental step toward normalization, similar to letting a customer opt for ketchup instead of secret sauce, though with a discrete cost.
Jack in the Box currently ranks as the 20th largest chain by the restaurant-industry QSR Magazine, though the company may see an upward trajectory as it projects growing to 6,000 locations spread evenly across the country -- up from roughly 2,200 venues concentrated in the West. The Impossible option plays into a recent strategy by the fast-food chain to embrace higher check total "premium" customers while also serving value-centric frequent diners.
I'd be there everyday if it would just offer Impossible Monster Tacos. Better that it doesn't.
The other important announcement is a trial of Beyond Meat at McDonald's. While that's a big move since the No. 1 chain is viewed as the eventual arbiter of plant-based meat's full acceptance, the trial involves just a single menu item at eight locations.
The trial McPlant sandwich, with a codeveloped Beyond patty, is the latest in a long line of nonmeat burger tests at McDonald's locations around the world, a couple of which I've tried in the UK and Germany and found revolting. The Beyond-based McPlant will cure that problem.
I'm not sure what to think about segregating Beyond to the clumsily named McPlant sandwich, burying its brand equity much the way the auto industry tends to do with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On one hand, it suggests confidence in plant-based product positioning. On the other hand, launching new fast-food items is as fraught as writing hit songs. People wonder why it's taking McDonald's so long to make a system-wide decision, especially since Beyond is a proven product. The two companies already demoed a Beyond Meat burger under a different alias in Canada during a trial that ended mysteriously.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.