Light Wave


Are American Fast Food Consumers Ready for Plant-Based Meat?

By Jake Beardslee · July 3, 2024

Recent moves by major fast food chains reveal diverging strategies regarding plant-based options in American restaurants. While some companies are expanding their meatless offerings, others are retreating from these alternatives.

Panda Express has announced the return of its plant-based chicken, created in partnership with Beyond Meat. The company stated: "We've never received so many social media comments begging for an entree's return." Fans even initiated a petition for its comeback, prompting Panda Express to state, "If our fans continue to love and demand it, there's potential to expand availability."  Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA / Wikimedia

In contrast, McDonald's has discontinued its McPlant burger in the United States. At the Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum, McDonald's U.S. President Joe Erlinger explained, "I don't think the U.S. consumer is... looking for the McPlant or other plant-based proteins from McDonald's." He added that the 2022 test of the McPlant in San Francisco and Dallas "was not successful in either market."  Dominic Alves / Wikimedia

The McPlant has, however, found success in Europe, becoming a permanent menu item in several countries. McDonald's even introduced plant-based McNuggets in European markets last year, according to the Associated Press.  Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia

These divergent approaches by two major fast food chains indicate uncertainty about the demand for plant-based options in the U.S. market. While Panda Express sees potential in meatless offerings, McDonald's is prioritizing other menu items, such as chicken, for its U.S. operations.  Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Panda Express's Beyond Orange Chicken has shown promising results. During its initial test in 2021, the company sold over 1,300 pounds of the product on the first day in select New York City and Southern California locations, according to ABC News.  Chasity Maynard/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

Chef Jimmy Wang, executive director of culinary innovation at Panda Express, remarked in a 2021 statement, "It's one of Panda's most successful regional launches to date, which further reinforces the desire we're seeing from our guests for more diverse and plant-based options."  Tess Ware/Livingston Daily / USA TODAY NETWORK

As consumer preferences evolve, the fast food industry continues to adapt. The future of plant-based options on American fast food menus remains uncertain, with some chains embracing these alternatives while others take a more cautious approach.  John Oncken / USA TODAY NETWORK