From ‘McPlant' to Pizza Hut… Fast Food Giants Are Embracing the World of Plant-Based Offerings

McDonald's and Pizza Hut are only the latest entrants into the vegan market

Why eat a cow when you can eat a plant that tastes like a cow?

McDonald's sauntered into the world of plant-based offerings last week with its announcement of the appropriately named "McPlant," a plant-based burger the fast foot giant plans to release next year.

McDonald's has taken its time to introduce a plant-based burger. The company follows its rival Burger King into this market by more than a year. Burger King's plant-based Impossible Whopper was released in 2019.

Meanwhile, Pizza Hut had its own announcement last week, becoming the first national pizza chain to introduce plant-based "meat" pizzas across the country.

Burger King's Impossible Whopper. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

"I'd challenge anyone to go try the new Beyond Pan Pizza and tell the difference. I shared it with friends and family, and they couldn't," said David Graves, Pizza Hut's chief brand officer.

The fast food chains that have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon also include White Castle, Carl's Jr., Dunkin' Donuts and Del Taco. Each has partnered with one of two rival plant-based meat suppliers: Impossible Foods Inc. or Beyond Meat.

Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat include saving the planet as part of their mission statements. Manufacturing their plant products uses just a fraction of the water and land as raising and slaughtering beef, and creates less greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Pizza Hut supplied its plant-based "meat" toppings from Beyond Meat, while Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods Inc. to release its Impossible Whopper in 2019.

In Vernon, California, animal rights activists bring water to give pigs a drink in their last moments of life before they are slaughtered.

Impossible Foods prides itself on faux meat that looks, tastes and even "bleeds" like the real thing. Burger King’s Impossible Whopper uses the Impossible Burger 2.0, which was released in 2019 and which Impossible Foods Inc. claims tastes even more identical to beef than the original. In a taste test, Burger King clientele couldn’t tell the difference between the meat-based and plant-based Whoppers.

But there's been controversy. In 2019 Burger King was sued by a vegan customer who accused the fast-food chain of contaminating its meatless "Impossible" Whoppers by cooking them on the same grills as its traditional meat burgers.

McDonald's announcement was initially seen as a huge blow to Beyond Meat, which was considered the likeliest partner for McDonald's on a meat-free burger. Beyond Meat's stock plummeted on the news before bouncing back after the company suggested a partnership may be in the works after all. McDonald's, however, has not confirmed a deal.

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White Castle, home to (depending on your tastes) possibly the most irresistible sliders to be found at a fast food spot, was one of the first to step a toe into the plant based market. Also in partnership with Impossible Foods, the company began testing meat-free burgers at 140 locations in 2018— and it’s become a cult favorite. They're now available at locations nationwide.

Carl's Jr. now offers a 100% plant-based burger based on its Famous Star burger. The burger was developed with Beyond Meat and includes Beyond Burger patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, dill pickles, special sauce, and mayonnaise on a seeded bun.

Both Dunkin' Donuts and Del Taco have also introduced plant-based substitutes with Beyond Meat.