Plant-Based ‘Burgers’ Were Doomed to Fail

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This week, fast food giant McDonald’s ended its trial of their plant-based burger, the McPlant, which uses Beyond Meat™ meatless patties. “Neither McDonald’s nor Beyond Meat has announced any plans for additional testing or a nationwide launch,” reports CNBC.

The companies first teamed up to test the horribly named McPlant in eight locations in November of last year before expanding to about 600 locations in mid-February “to learn more about consumer demand for the menu item.”

Of course, the demand wasn’t there — and I’m not surprised.

“Beyond Meat has failed to generate any positive free cash flow since going public in 2019,” New Constructs CEO David Trainer explained this week. The company has also burned through $1 billion in free cash flow since 2018.

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Getting these meatless burgers into fast food restaurants was arguably the best chance they had to succeed and develop demand in the market. But I’ve never believed they would generate adequate demand.

Last year, I tried a plant-based burger to see if they were all they were hyped up to be. At the time, my only option was the Impossible™ Whopper at Burger King because McDonald’s wasn’t offering the McPlant yet. I was actually impressed by the first bite. Despite the marketing assuring me that it tasted like beef, I still expected to taste something like those awful beans and sawdust veggie burgers. But it pretty much tasted like a Whopper. That said, I’ve never had one since. Why not? 

A Harvard study found that the Impossible™ Burger and the Beyond Burger® sacrifice healthiness to replicate the taste of real beef hamburgers. Compared to 85% lean ground beef, the plant-based alternatives are comparable in calories, fat content, and protein. But plant-based burgers are loaded with sodium and are heavily processed, and the study even conceded that beyond environmental factors, “they may not be the best option for the health of our bodies.”

So, with no real health benefit from eating plant-based burgers, what’s the point?

Flashback: I Tried a Plant-Based Burger. How Does It Stack Up Against Real Meat?

If a plant-based burger tasted like the real thing but was actually healthier, that would be something. But it’s definitely not. So what exactly is the appeal? There’s the sustainability factor, but realistically speaking, who will spend more money on an imitation burger? That’s right: the same sandwich with a meatless patty actually costs more than the real thing. Even if we weren’t feeling the pain of Biden’s inflation, who wants to pay more for a sandwich because a meatless burger is “more sustainable?”

Anyone?

So, realistically speaking, where’s the market for these things? With no health benefit over natural beef, if you’re not a vegetarian, you’re better off eating the real thing — both healthwise and financially. And just how big is the market for vegetarians? Not very big. According to Gallup, only five percent of U.S. adults consider themselves vegetarian. And how many vegetarians are willing to pay a premium for something in the name of sustainability because it tastes more like meat?

I doubt very many.

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