Why McDonald’s Just Entered the Money-Making Meatless Market

By Jemima McEvoy Tuesday, November 10, 2020

McDonald’s announced on November 9 that it would — finally — make its entrance into the meatless market. Though many of the fast-food chain’s competitors made this jump years ago, the golden arches said it would test a meat-free burger in several markets in 2021 as it adds plant-based menu offerings under the new brand: “McPLant.” Shares for McDonald’s and the leading vegan alternatives supplier Beyond Meat, which helped create the patties, rose in the afternoon following the announcement, signaling investors are as hopeful about the move’s prospects as McDonald’s is.

It’s no coincidence that McDonald’s is entering the meatless market now. What was once considered to be a fringe (and to many, icky) experiment has become incredibly mainstream over the past few years. Meatless products — which range from fake pork to beef to chicken to fish — are raking in profits and an industry report recently published to Research and Markets gives insight into how and why.

A Plant-Based Present

The most recent figures reveal that in 2019, the global plant-based meat market was worth a whopping $4.291 billion. The market has seen significant growth due to a number of external and internal factors predominantly, the changing tastes of consumer populations around the world. There are a rising number of buyers who are more conscious of what they are eating — both in terms of health and in terms of environmental impact. Meatless burgers, for example, are viewed as a sustained alternative to beef patties, whose production results in the emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

“Producer smacking efforts on a continuous basis for manufacturing plant-based meat (alternative source of protein) are the major factors impelling the market growth,” explained a news release about the report.

Though polling finds that the percentage of the US’s population that identifies as vegetarian has remained pretty steady over the past two decades, interest in meatless options comes from a new type of consumer: flexitarians. These are people who follow a semi-vegetarian diet centered around plant food, but occasionally includes meat. The increased prevalence of meatless options in grocery stores and fast-food chains, like McDonald’s, has facilitated the rise of these consumers.

Within the global meatless market, the leading products are plant-based burger patties, according to the market analysis. These have also been particularly attractive to the aforementioned flexitarians. The most popular source material used is soy, which dominates the overall plant-based meat market due to “developing consumer consciousness of soy’s various medical advantages and rising usage in wafers, snacks, cookies and baked items.”

COVID Creatives

Another significant contributor to the market’s success is the innovation and adaptability of key players. According to a separate analysis published to Markets and Markets, plant-based market leaders include:

  • Beyond Meat
  • Impossible Food Inc.
  • Maple Leaf Foods
  • The Vegetarian Butcher
  • Gardein Protein International
  • Morningstar Farms
  • Quorn Foods
  • Amy’s Kitchen
  • Tofurky
  • Gold & Green Foods Ltd.

Not only are their meatless meats getting developed to the point where people can barely tell them apart from actual meat, but “new product launches, agreements, collaborations” and “joint ventures, expansions, and acquisitions” have facilitated their success.

No time has this been more apparent than during the era of coronavirus. This unprecedented public health crisis posed a challenge to all industries, including the meatless market (people have less money to buy expensive plant-based alternatives); however, these leading players managed to actually turn the pandemic in their favor.

Due to meat deficiencies caused by the shutdown of meatpacking plants because of the strong possibility of outbreaks, leading meat suppliers warned that there would be shortages in supermarket shelves. That’s when the plant-based industry stepped up. “During the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the meat business was hammered by warnings of meat deficiencies because of temporarily shuttered plants and growing number of sick workers,” explained the Research and Markets report. “The market leaders such as Beyond Meat Inc., Impossible Foods Inc., and Tofurky Co. are increasing the level of production amid pandemic and [are] also offering discounts on their plant-based meat products to enhance consumer base, expanding stores, and completing partnership with the stakeholders.”

It’s a life lesson as old as time: When life gives you lemons, make more meatless products.

A Meat-Free Future

It’s important to note that this isn’t just a passing trend, either. The global plant-based market is projected to reach $35.54 billion in 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 14% for the next four years. The fastest-growing market is in North America, which is expected to lead going forward.

“Rising obesity rates across the globe, coupled with consumer interest in healthier food alternatives, are also expected to drive the demand for meatless proteins during the forecast period of 2020-2025,” explained the Research and Markets report.

All of this explains why McDonald’s is not the first — and certainly won’t be the last — major player to try and get a piece of the plant-based pie.

About the Author


Headshot for author Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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