McDonald’s started testing a new menu item last week. This is normally not news – fast food joints test potential products all the time. This item was different. This one was a vegan burger.
It’s called the McVegan, and you probably already figured that out. The sandwich consists of a soy-based patty accompanied by usual suspects lettuce, tomato, and pickles, topped with what they’re calling McFeast sauce. The menu item is in the middle of an eight-week run in Tampere, Finland; a modestly-sized city about two hours north of Helsinki. It’s an oddity; one that’s easy for carnivores to make jokes about. But point-and-laugh humor at the McVegan’s expense isn’t the reason this story is noteworthy. A fast food empire’s apparent attempt at wooing the vegan crowd is what makes the test product worth discussing.
On paper, McDonald’s pursuing the vegan dollar is the fast food equivalent to marketing death metal to a Belieber. It obviously doesn’t need the vegan market. The company hit a rough patch a couple of years ago, but it’s bounced back rather nicely in 2017. Even if it was still stuck in a bit of economic malaise, it’s still one of the world’s most iconic brands. Kids still love the place. Adults that grew up on Happy Meals will stop by. People on the go or low on cash will still hit the joint. It’s been this way for decades, and will be this way for decades to come.
Vegans are also a small demographic for a behemoth like McDonald’s to pursue. It is admittedly tough to get honest concrete data about how many people in the United States are vegans; a quick Google search on “percentage of vegans in United States” mostly reveals polls conducted by animal rights or pro-vegetarian websites aggressively pushing anti-meat agendas. Still, the percentage determined by these sites tend to fall anywhere between .5% and 6%. That’s a relatively small slice of the public, especially when the most vocal segment of the slice ranges from obnoxiousness to militant intolerance when it comes to meat eating. Besides, even though McDonald’s has rolled out salad options, their bulk of their menu still reads like an anti-vegan manifesto. It doesn’t make sense.
Or does it? Since news dropped, vegans have been going bonkers over the news. Dietary converts that have boycotted McDonald’s for years are dropping by to check it out, possibly scratching the itch of nostalgia in the process. Vegans in other European countries are asking for wider distribution. To riff on a certain catchphrase, they’re loving it. It’s remarkable – what initially looked like a fast food joint gunning for an “I’m Keith Hernandez”-level of hubris may end up being as a stroke of genius. The lesson here: never question McDonald’s ability to strategize, no matter how hackneyed their idea may look.
There’s only one teensy problem with McVegan’s grand experiment. There are no current plans to roll out the vegan burger to the United States. However, given the success the sandwich has enjoyed during its test run thus far, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine they’d change their mind. If they do, I’ll make a deal with you – I’ll eat one. I’m not a vegan by any means, but I’m a curious fellow. There’s a McDonald’s a block from my house. I can walk there. If it’s terrible, I can walk it right off, possibly while going to the killer torta joint across the street.