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McDonald’s McVegan misses the mark

David Stein

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For those who identify as vegan or vegetarian, McDonald’s has likely never been too high on the list of favorite restaurants to eat at.

Not only does the fast food chain have a narrow range of menu options for customers of the vegan or vegetarian variety, McDonald’s suppliers have also been publicly criticized in recent years for their  negligence and cruelty towards their animals.

In 2015, an animal rights activist group called Mercy for Animals, obtained video footage from Tyson Foods, a former McDonald’s supplier, of employees at a Tyson Foods contract farm in Lewisburg Tennessee, beating chickens to death. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down the plant Central Valley Meat Co., in Hanford, California that McDonald’s was buying meat from, when a video of cows being suffocated to death emerged.

(Ally Zacek/The DePaulia)

While McDonald’s caters predominantly to meat-eaters, the multinational corporation is currently experimenting with an all-soy burger option that they’ve decided to call the McVegan.

This trial, which began exclusively in Tampere, Finland on Oct. 4, will be in effect until Nov. 21. From that point, McDonald’s can decide whether or not the concept has long-term potential.

Perhaps this is a brilliant marketing strategy, but the thought of an animal-slaughtering corporation like McDonald’s being able to successfully penetrate the vegan market sounds highly farfetched. Why would someone choose to support a vegan product from a company like McDonald’s, which vehemently opposes their values with its other menu options?

Even marketing professor Ilan Geva, who formerly conducted research about McDonald’s, admits that a vegan menu option is oddly contradictory to the cornerstone meals that have grown the current brand into such a powerhouse.

“McDonald’s has the financial muscle. There’s no doubt about that. If they decide to develop vegan as a concept, they may decide to develop a completely different sub-brand that will be financially owned by McDonald’s, but it will cater to the market that prefers vegan to meat,” said Geva.

Instead, Geva suggests that McDonald’s launch a sub-brand if the McVegan were to take off, so there could be some separation from its non-vegan food products.

“Because of the scale and the power of McDonald’s, it might be worth it for them to open a separate brand. To start a completely separate company that will do only vegan. It would be owned by McDonald’s, but it would not carry the name McDonald’s. Why would they hurt their main brand by introducing something that completely contradicts what they serve under the umbrella of McDonald’s? Why introduce a conflict into a successful concept?” Geva said.

Although the McVegan concept is currently in a primitive stage, some people might be wondering how or why it came to be that the sandwich debuted in Finland, as opposed to another market. According to Geva, new concepts like these always begin small before they expand to bigger geographical regions.

“They will be conducting test markets, in places like Finland, which is a relatively small market. And probably the expenses of using Finland as a testing market, as well as the acceptance of the local population is such, that they’re not going to invest billions of dollars into testing it in a country like the United States, because they want to see how it works in other places first,” Geva said.

Meanwhile, if the McVegan burger ever did make its way overseas to North America, senior Emily Roberts, who studies elementary school education, doesn’t believe it will be successful.

“Knowing McDonald, it’ll probably have like a week of fame and then won’t last. Their meat isn’t fully meat so I assume their vegan burger won’t be tasty or will last,” Roberts said.

If McDonald’s were to offer the McVegan in the U.S. there is a possibility it would fail to sell. “Personally, if this idea were to ever come to North America, I can’t really foresee myself ever purchasing a McDonald’s product. Knowing the lack of quality that goes into their food, I don’t think I would ever really want to buy a meal or any sort of food product from them,” said long-time vegan Shawn Lipson.

It is possible that McDonald’s is only reaching into the vegan market for economic reasons.“They clearly don’t care about vegetarianism or veganism. I really just think they’re trying to see if they can capitalize on a new market of people who will come to their restaurants. Who knows if the idea is going to take off, but I sincerely doubt that McDonald’s cares about the ethical issues surrounding meat consumption,” Lipson said.

If social media is any indication, there seems to be a mixed reaction to McDonald’s new McVegan burger. Whether it can be successful or not is anyone’s guess, but I do know one thing: if I were interested in attending a White Sox game, I wouldn’t go to Wrigley Field to look for tickets.

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McDonald’s McVegan misses the mark