Would anyone eat a burger called McPlant? McDonald's is about to find out.
The company said Monday that it will test the new plant-based burger in key markets next year.
After testing a plant-based burger in some international markets, "we have created a delicious burger that will be the first menu option in a plant-based platform," said Ian Borden, president of McDonald's International. He added that the McPlant line could eventually include plant-based chicken and breakfast sandwiches, too.
The company joins other fast food chains like Burger King and Dunkin' in getting in on the plant-based trend. Last year, it began testing a burger in Canada made with patties from Beyond Meat, a seller of meatless products.
"Beyond Meat and McDonalds co-created the plant-based patty which will be available as part of their McPlant platform," a Beyond Meat spokesperson said. Beyond plans to report earnings after the bell on Monday.
McDonald's declined to comment on which suppliers it's working with for the McPlant line.
McDonald's isn't just going all in on meat substitutes.
In addition to the McPlant line, McDonald's said in a strategy update to investors that it would capitalize on consumer trends that strengthened during the pandemic — like eating comfort food. That means focusing on its most popular menu items and selling more chicken
"Demand for the familiar in these uncertain times is more important than ever," McDonald's said in its investor update, adding that it expects core menu items like its Big Mac and Quarter Pounder burgers, Chicken McNuggets and french fries to contribute to its growth moving forward.
To further promote sales of these items, McDonald's is rolling out improvements, like new, toasty buns and an "enhanced grilling approach" for hamburgers, as well as more chicken flavors and menu items.
It also plans to launch a new crispy chicken sandwich in the United States early next year. America's appetite for chicken sandwiches has helped make Chick-fil-A a success, and contributed to rising sales at Popeyes. McDonald's already serves a chicken sandwich, the McChicken, and often tests out new types of chicken sandwiches.
A new chicken sandwich should help give McDonald's "credibility" in the chicken space, said Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald's USA.
"We want customers to choose McDonald's for chicken," he said.
New packaging and easier ordering
That's not all. McDonald's is introducing new packaging with a "modern, refreshing feel." The company is rolling the new packaging out globally over the next few years.
And it's taking cues from another pandemic-induced trend — eating at home instead of at restaurants.
Digital delivery, drive-thru and pickup orders have been essential for restaurants during the pandemic, and many chains, including Burger King, Popeyes and Taco Bell are exploring new store formats and investing in drive-thru improvements. McDonald's is no exception.
The burger chain is planning to make it easier for customers to eat at home by letting more people order delivery through the McDonald's app and improving the speed and accuracy of delivery orders. It will also try out new concepts at its drive-thrus, like automated order taking, and express pickup lanes for people who placed digital orders. And it will test out restaurants with drive-thrus that are only open for delivery and pickup orders.
Plus, it's launching a new digital hub called "MyMcDonald's," which will include a new loyalty program that will be piloted in Phoenix in the coming weeks.
The company has been investing in its technology for some time — it bought Dynamic Yield, an artificial intelligence company, to help it roll out smart menu boards last year. It has also purchased Apprente, another AI company that works on voice-based ordering platforms. Apprente should help automate McDonald's drive-thru.
McDonald's suffered early in the pandemic, but its sales have been improving.
In the United States, sales at stores open at least 13 months jumped 4.6% in the three months that ended on September 30 compared to the same period last year. Overall, system-wide sales were flat compared to last year. In 2021, McDonald's expects system-wide sales to grow by single digits compared to 2019.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said McDonald's was producing its own plant-based products. Beyond later said it co-created the patty of the McPlant burger.