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A McDonald's U.S. Failure Becomes a Global Hit

It is far from unusual for a fast-food dish to be more popular globally than it is in the U.S.

It is far from unusual for a fast-food dish to be more popular globally than it is in the U.S. 

Aside from the occasional temporary promotion, Yum Brands'  (YUM) - Get Free Report KFC has kept the Chicken Twister Wrap off its American menus since 2013. But in countries like France and China, it is an indispensable part of the menu.

While McDonald's  (MCD) - Get Free Report Mighty Wings failed to take off when the chain tried to launch them in the U.S. -- in the 1990s and then again in 2013 -- they are another beloved and permanent menu staple in places like Hong Kong and Singapore.

But perhaps the biggest gap between the U.S. and almost everywhere else is McDonald's' attempt to go plant-based. 

While a corn-and-pea patty called McVeggie has been on the menus in countries like India, Switzerland and New Zealand as far back as 2012, McDonald's dragged its feet on launching a plant-based burger in the U.S.

The McPlant Is Not Going Away (in Some Places)

After years of promising customers a plant-based burger and rolling one out to much fanfare at the end of 2021, McDonald's ultimately saw weak sales of the McPlant. A report from BTIG found that popular locations in California and Texas were selling only about 20 sandwiches per day. 

The patty, created in partnership with Beyond Meat BYND was designed to mimic the taste of beef but was made from a combination of peas, rice and potato. 

After a half-year trial, McDonald's started telling media outlets that the test had "concluded as planned," but it did not make the McPlant a permanent menu item. 

While the curtain on the McPlant's American story may have dropped, demand for the sandwich is still strong in international locations.

The Double Double McPlant -- the same tomato-lettuce-and-cheese-on-a-bun sandwich but with two patties -- is set to roll out at the nearly 1,400 McDonald's locations across the U.K. and Ireland on Jan. 4. 

Following a trial run that went much more successfully than in the US, the regular McPlant became permanent in the UK in January 2022 while the Double McPlant will join the roster one year later.

"We saw a remarkable response to the trial period back in October," Michelle Graham-Clare, chief marketing officer at McDonald’s UK and Ireland, told media outlets. "And now McPlant is on the high-street, in retail parks and service stations all over the UK and Ireland."

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Different Tastes? Or Market Oversaturation?

So why did something so popular abroad fail to take off in the U.S.? 

While reports of how much Americans love their real meat abound, the reality is that competitors like Restaurant Brands International  (QSR) - Get Free Report's Burger King have been successfully selling plant-based burgers since 2015.

The U.S. plant-based market is still expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 19.3% through 2030.

But the McPlant also came to consumers at a time when appetites for alternative meat started to peak amid an oversaturation of different products on the market.

Beyond's stock has fallen sharply as new players in the alternative-meat space have popped up. And alternative meat's higher cost is definitely a factor, particularly when inflation is running hot. 

"For McPlant to be more ubiquitous, the price point needs to be more competitive with traditional burgers, and the health and climate benefits need to have greater emphasis," BTIG analysts Peter Saleh and Ben Parente wrote in March 2022.