McDonald's McPlant fake-meat burger is coming next year [Updated]

McDonald's is working on a fake meat product of its own, with "McPlant" set to offer a plant-based alternative to its usual beef burgers, chicken nuggets, and fish options. The development, announced during the fast food company's financial results today, could put McDonald's on a collision course with faux-flesh startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

Their rise in prominence over the past few years has been considerable, as meat alternatives go from vague facsimiles to close simulacra. That means burgers that look, taste, and ooze juices like real beef versions would.

As a result, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have picked up fans beyond just the core audience of vegetarians you'd expect. Concerns about the long-term health impact of eating red meat have been credited for part of the growth in demand, alongside growing awareness of the environmental pressures that traditional meat farming create. Impossible Foods, for example, claims that one pound of its burger saves the equivalent of more than 27 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, land footprint equivalent to 1.5 trees, and the equivalent of 1 day of personal water use.

Fast food companies haven't been slow to recognize the appeal. Burger King, for example, announced it would be offering Impossible Burger in its restaurants across the US in early 2019, after a successful pilot scheme. In the same year, Beyond Meat's artificial chicken found a home on KFC's menu, while its plant-based meatballs arrived behind the glass on Subway's counter.

It seemed like only a matter of time, then, before the fast food behemoths decided to bypass the suppliers and go it alone. McDonald's McPlant is the first such example, and will be an exclusive product for the company, it confirmed during today's investor meeting. Tests of the first McPlant burger are expected to begin in select markets in 2021. "Markets can adopt the McPlant when they're ready," the company has said today.

However it won't be just one product, at least not as McDonald's envisages it. McPlant could expand into a whole range of options, giving an alternative to the company's beef, chicken, and pork options. McDonald's is yet to follow its fast food counterparts in offering a broadly-available fake-meat option, though did begin smaller scale trials of a "P.L.T." – "Plant, Lettuce, and Tomato" – using a specially crafted Beyond Meat-based burger in Canada late in 2019.

McDonald's hasn't said which supplier it plans to work with on McPlant. As with the animal meat for its products, it will be working with suppliers to produce plant-based meat for the McPlant platform, the company has confirmed.

Even if McPlant takes off, though, that doesn't mean the restaurant's more traditional meals are going away. There'll be a new Crispy Chicken Sandwich offered in the US early in the new year, for example, along with new packaging that will be launching globally.

[Updated to add video, and to reflect that McDonald's will be working with a supplier, not producing the meat-alternative itself, with that supplier yet to be named]