If you’re looking for a meatless meal in New Zealand, fast-food chain McDonald’s might have just the thing for you: the Salad Burger. The burger is more of an omission than an addition to McDonald’s menu, as the vegetarian option is just a patty-less version of a traditional burger. 

It features basic ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles, accented by a hefty dose of McChicken sauce. 

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McDonald’s Salad Burger represents an attempt to cater to vegetarians and, according to media outlet Brand Eating, is a response to Burger King, which also offers a Salad Burger in New Zealand but its version is fortified with onion rings. 

Another difference? In addition to the Salad Burger, New Zealand Burger King locations also offer a selection of burgers made with plant-based meat. 

McDonald’s embraces vegan burgers (in some places)

This modest foray into vegetarian options by McDonald’s New Zealand stands in stark contrast to the dramatic strides it has made in other markets, particularly in the United Kingdom. 

In the UK, the plant-based meat market has witnessed a 400 percent growth over the last decade, according to a report released by Social Market Foundation (SMF), supported by the RSPCA. SMF projects that alternative proteins could make up a third of the total protein market by 2040 in the UK, highlighting a significant shift in consumer eating habits.

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At its UK outlets, McDonald’s is taking full advantage of this shift with the launch of the McPLant, which it created in partnership with American company Beyond Meat. After a short trial, McDonald’s added the vegan burger, complete with dairy-free cheese, to its menus across the UK and Ireland.

The McPlant is the product of a three-year development deal with Beyond Meat, which was forged with McDonald’s to develop a variety of market-specific items such as meatless chicken sandwiches and breakfast options. 

In addition to the UK, the McPlant has also found success in other countries, including the Netherlands. “We are pleased with the permanent place of the McPlant on the menu,” Stijn Mentrop, McDonald’s Netherlands Marketing Director, previously said in a statement. “During the temporary introduction last year, we received many positive comments from our guests about the taste of the McPlant.”

“We find it important to move with the preferences of our guests, who expect more and more variety,” Mentrop said. “We have been offering tasty alternatives for chicken with our veggie products for some time, and now we are doing the same for beef.” 

The introduction of the Salad Burger in New Zealand, amidst the dynamic growth of the plant-based meat market in the UK and the successful integration of the McPlant in markets like the Netherlands, illustrates McDonald’s uneven approach to adopting plant-based options globally. 

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And much like its Salad Burger in New Zealand, McDonald’s has also been reluctant to add plant-based meat options in the US. Here, McDonald’s tested the McPlant in 600 locations last year but ended the trial without announcing plans for a national rollout. 

Can vegan fast food dethrone McDonald’s?

One of McDonald’s largest competitors, Burger King, is all about meatless burgers at its locations worldwide and has even leaned into fully vegan pop-ups in major markets, including Germany, the UK, and Spain. 

While McDonald’s hopes to sell New Zealanders on the Salad Burger concept, Burger King is actively working to normalize plant-based meat. 

Most recently, Burger King challenged Brits to tell the difference between its traditional meat offerings and its Vegan Royale and Plant-Based Whopper—which feature plant-based meats made by Unliver-owned The Vegetarian Butcher. 

And emerging vegan fast-food chains are giving McDonald’s a run for its money. While McDonald’s is releasing Salad Burgers in New Zealand, nearby, vegan challenger Mr. Charlie’s just opened its 4th location in Redfern, Australia which is approximately three miles from Sydney. This expansion represents a significant milestone for the plant-based eatery as it extends its mission to make vegan cuisine accessible to a global audience.

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Here, classic fast-food burgers (like the playful “Big Chuck”), chicken sandwiches, and more are just as comforting and nostalgic but made without animal products. The company’s employment policy is also predicated on making a meaningful impact. 

Mr. Charlie’s teamed up with the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES) to provide job opportunities for local community members. The company is also engaged in supporting the Redfern Community Centre, recognizing the area’s rich history and the value its residents bring to the community.

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