McDonald’s could be renewing two food fights in 2021 – the meatless burger battle and the Chicken Sandwich War.
The global fast-food giant shared exclusively with USA TODAY Monday that it has developed a new plant-based platform dubbed McPlant with tests of the burger expected in some markets around the world next year.
In a move that could kick-start a new round of the Chicken Sandwich War, McDonald’s also confirmed its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich would arrive in the U.S. early next year during its virtual investor update Monday.
“McPlant is crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s,” Ian Borden, McDonald’s international president, said at the investor meeting. “In the future, McPlant could extend across a line of plant-based products including burgers, chicken substitutes and breakfast sandwiches.”
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The plant-based and chicken sandwich announcements were part of the company’s new growth strategy called “Accelerating the Arches.” The strategy includes a commitment to the core menu.
McDonald’s also released its quarterly earnings Monday that beat analysts’ projections, but shares of the Chicago company dropped more than 1.5% and closed at $213.22.
McDonald’s is behind its competition on launching a plant-based burger in the U.S. In 2019, Burger King launched the Impossible Whopper using a plant-based patty from food startup Impossible Foods, maker of the Impossible patty.
Carl’s Jr., Del Taco and many other chains also added plant-based menu items in 2019. Author Kathy Freston started a Change.org petition asking for McDonald’s to add a vegan burger about seven years ago. The petition has more than 234,000 signatures.
“There are other plant-based burgers out there, but the McPlant delivers our iconic taste in a sink-your-teeth-in (and wipe-your-mouth) kind of sandwich,” McDonald’s said in a blog post Monday. “It’s made with a juicy, plant-based patty and served on a warm, sesame seed bun with all the classic toppings.”
Borden said some markets will test the burger next year. Whether or not the vegan-friendly burger will arrive in the U.S. and a potential timeline was not immediately known.
“We are excited about the opportunity because we believe we have a proven, delicious-tasting product,” Borden said. “When customers are ready for it, we will be ready for them.”
Last September, McDonald’s started testing a plant-based burger called the P.L.T., which stands for plant, lettuce and tomato that featured a non-meat patty crafted exclusively by McDonald’s by Beyond Meat.
A Beyond Meat spokesperson confirmed the company co-created the plant-based patty that will be part of the McPlant platform with McDonald’s.
McDonald’s has also had plant-based options in other countries and launched the Big Vegan TS in Germany in May 2019.
Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, previously told USA TODAY that the growth of plant-based products in restaurants and stores isn’t a trend but a movement.
“Major fast-food chains are realizing that they have to respond to this growing consumer demand,” Simon said. “We’re talking of a mainstreaming of this way of eating. You can’t get more mainstream than Burger King and Carl’s Jr.”
Crispy Chicken Sandwich coming soon
McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger said U.S. restaurants would introduce the new Crispy Chicken Sandwich in 2021. The premium chicken sandwich was tested in Houston and Knoxville, Tennessee, in late 2019 through late January.
“It’s a simple build relevant for our U.S. customer base – with chicken, a potato roll, crinkle-cut pickles, and butter. It’s extremely craveable. I love it,” Erlinger said. “More importantly, our customers loved it in test.”
The chicken sandwich war of 2019 began after Popeyes’ debut of its New Orleans-style fried chicken on a bun when the chain started a viral Twitter feud with Chick-fil-A and other restaurants.
McDonald’s U.S. franchise owners, part of the National Owners Association, said in July 2019, prior to Popeyes sandwich being released that a new premium chicken sandwich should be McDonald’s top priority.
“We believe it’s going to jump-start our chicken journey, build our chicken credentials and get people to start looking at us differently,” Erlinger said Monday. “We’re excited about the moves we’re making to meet – and exceed – customer expectations for great-tasting chicken. That is how we will start to build our chicken credibility.”
McDonald’s has trimmed its menu because of staffing challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic but in recent months has made additions including new pastry items, limited-time celebrity meals with Travis Scott and J Balvin and Spicy McNuggets.
In December, McDonald’s is bringing its iconic barbecue sandwich, the McRib, back for a limited time. It’s the first time since 2012 that it will be available at restaurants nationwide.
McDonald’s to launch loyalty program
McDonald’s announced plans to launch a loyalty program called “MyMcDonald’s,” which will launch as a pilot in the Phoenix area in the coming weeks.
Officials said the rewards program will be a spend-based program, which is similar to other restaurants.
In July, Wendy’s launched the Wendy’s Rewards loyalty program where members can cash in points earned on purchases for free food. Starbucks recently updated its Starbucks Rewards program and Taco Bell also launched a rewards program.
Currently, McDonald’s offers discounts on its mobile app.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko