There's an identity crisis when it comes to the new plant-based burger that McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) unveiled on Monday. The fast food chain has worked with Beyond Meat (NASDAQ:BYND) in the past, but it was in no rush to share the credit for the new McPlant burger.
CNBC reported that the chain's international president Ian Borden called the new burger a creation "by McDonald's and for McDonald's." Beyond Meat saw things differently when it reported disappointing financial results hours after the introduction of the buzz-worthy vegan burger. Is Beyond Meat involved at all with McPlant, and if it is why is Mickey D's hogging the spotlight? Let's take a closer look at the new sandwich that could have some pretty beefy ramifications for Beyond Meat.
Planting the flag
Before taking a bite out of everything that went down on Monday let's start by pointing out that Beyond Meat and McDonald's have been partners before. It was Beyond Meat's patty in the P.L.T. (plant, lettuce, and tomato) that McDonald's started selling last summer in a few test markets in Canada. The chain pulled the plug on the P.L.T. in the springtime of this year, but chatter last month had the two companies continuing to work on a plant-based burger for the U.K. market.
Beyond Meat was naturally asked about the McPlant during its earnings call on Monday afternoon, especially since McDonald's never mentioned Beyond Meat.
"Our relationship with McDonald's is good," Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said during his company's earnings call. He would go on to quote Mark Twain's about reports of his death being greatly exaggerated.
Tiptoeing around actually saying that Beyond Meat is the company behind the McPlant, Brown said that he felt "good about what we're contributing to the McPlant platform" while at the same time respecting McDonald's decision to refer to the new sandwich in a generic sense.
Beyond Meat later pointed out that it prefers that eateries mention Beyond, and that's usually the case when it or rival Impossible Foods have a plant-based burger offering at a national chain. Beyond Meat sees it as a win-win, as the premium-priced nature of its faux beef patty brand ramps up the perceived value of the sandwich, while Beyond wins free publicity.
There's a lot at stake here. McDonald's Borden points out that the chain could also soon have plant-based chicken and breakfast sandwich offerings. A spokesperson for McDonald's did say that the chain wouldn't be the supplier itself, but it's also easy to see why it would want to avoid branding the McPlant with a third-party supplier or even mentioning it in passing. The move would give Beyond Meat all of the leverage here, and that could be dangerous given the kind of scale that the chain can deliver in terms of sales.
Beyond Meat and McDonald's are likely partners here, but it makes sense that Mickey D's is making sure it's the only name on the menu board. Rival Burger King may be playing up its own Impossible Foods-branded Whopper. Smaller fast-food chains also lean on the Impossible or Beyond names to drum up support and brand recognition. McDonald's won't have to do that when the McPlant starts rolling out in select markets next year. It's a consumer discretionary winner, and it has bigger things in mind than putting out liner notes for its menu items.