Yesterday McDonald’s announced that select locations in Canada would be testing a new plant-based burger called the PLT (Plant, Lettuce, Tomato) made with a Beyond Meat patty.
The move makes a lot of sense from a trend perspective. My question is: What’s with the name?
First of all, McDonald’s chose to make an entirely new plant-based offering, instead of introducing an alternative to, say, a Big Mac. That’s a totally different approach than competitors like Burger King and Carl’s Jr., who debuted the plant-based Impossible Whopper and Beyond Famous Star Burger, respectively, based off of their most popular sandwiches.
The choice to introduce a totally new product could speak to McDonald’s hesitation to dive headfirst into the alternative meat trend — a perspective that was voiced by CEO Steve Easterbrook to CNBC earlier this year. By launching an entirely separate product they don’t risk alienating any consumers who are wary of the idea of eating an alt-meat burger and might be put off by the concept of Big Macs going vegetarian.
The bigger issue, at least in my mind, is the use of “plant.” I started thinking about this after reading a tweet from Matt Hayek, an NYU Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies.
McDonalds is finally testing a beyond burger, but giving it a name that is bound to hurt sales. https://t.co/jjx20FHz5C
— Matthew Hayek (@MattHighKick) September 26, 2019
There’s a reason that other fast-food companies aren’t including the world “plant” in their alt-meat menu offerings: it situates the product as something other than “meat.” If McDonald’s is trying to appeal to flexitarians — that is, folks that are trying to reduce their animal consumption but don’t want to go full-on vegetarian or vegan — that could be offputting.
I’m also a little unclear about the decision to call the new McDonald’s offering the “PLT.” To me, PLT –> BLT — that is, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato. But there’s no bacon, plant-based or otherwise, involved in the product. That could be a source of confusion for consumers who see the PLT on menus, in-store or online, and are surprised when the burger shows op sans bacon.
Perhaps most interestingly, McDonald’s Canada doesn’t use the word “Beyond” or even “burger” anywhere in the name, which I think is a missed opportunity. By contact, ‘The Impossible Whopper’ is able to take advantage of Impossible’s brand recognition to draw in consumers who may have heard about the plant-based patties from the news, or even tried them elsewhere. ‘PLT’ could feature any old plant-based patty, or even just be a bunch of plants piled on a bun.
In short, it’s huge news that McDonald’s is experimenting with a plant-based burger in Canada, so close to the U.S. But they seem to be doing it in a way that sets themselves up for failure — or at least not in a way that would attract the maximum amount of new consumers, flexitarian and otherwise.
The PLT pilot will begin on September 30th in select McDonald’s locations in Ontario, Canada. Soon enough we’ll be able to see if McDonald’s is shooting itself in the foot with the name, or if consumers are eager enough to try plant-based options that they’ll look past an odd name and try the PLT anyway.